I Saw the Neighbors Flee

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Fire Prevention Week Kicks Off Sunday, October 9th

by Emma Young

I saw the neighbors fleeing their home, the home with which we share a wall. They ran into the shared parking area out front as I looked and wondered from my front window. I don’t think I’ll ever forget seeing Marie, a hard-working nurse and mother, turn, look up and back, and mouth “Oh my God!” as one hand moved to the top of her head, and the other to cover her mouth. Time both seemed to slow and hasten as I ran outside and turned to see what they saw- thick, dusky smoke billowing above our row of townhomes. Fire. Our houses were on fire.

In less than an hour, minutes really, our neighborhood witnessed the total loss of 2 homes, displacement of 4 families, including my own (over 4 months later and we’re thankful to still have a hotel room in which to live), and property destruction worth multiple hundreds of thousands.

smoke detectorAccording to investigations by both insurance companies and the Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue, the fire may have been preventable with one likely cause being embers from a barbecue grill used on one of our back decks the night prior. Shockingly, this is not unusual.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration’s Topical Fire Report Series (Volume 17), cooking was the leading reported cause of residential building fires, accounting for 70 percent of fires. The next leading cause is preventable as well, categorized as: “unintentional, careless actions,” such as abandoned matches, or combustible materials near ignition sources, such as a fire place in use.

As winter approaches, the risk of home fires increase according to this same report. Bringing in wood for the stove and curling up by the fireplace are delightful in cold winter months as the bitter wind blows outside. I have witnessed fire’s destructive, consuming power though, and it is nothing with which to become complacent. Fire takes lives.

From 2012 to 2014, 68 percent of all fire deaths in the nation occurred in one- and two-family dwellings, resulting in over 2000 deaths, some of which are the hard-working firefighters who sacrifice their lives working to save our homes, to save our families, to save us apparently, as statistics report, from our own carelessness with this deadly and damaging reaction.

I saw those firefighters outside my home that Memorial Day morning, kneeling on the pavement, sweat pouring from their faces on to their soot-covered uniforms, asking for water. And I saw one of these well-trained and brave firefighters placed on a gurney with an injury sustained while working to save my home, the one from which I fled with my three-year-old daughter in my arms. Fire prevention saves lives.

“It is important we communicate properly about fire safety. It is important the public understand the jobs and tasks of firefighters in the community,” said Jim McAllister, Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer Fire Department [OWL VFD] Department Chief. To do so, OWL VFD, Dale City VFD, the County’s Fire and Rescue Department, and AirCare Medevac, a service of PHI Air Medical, are hosting a free and fun public event kicking off National Fire Prevention Week on Sunday, October 9, from 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. at Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center in Woodbridge.

The event includes the opportunity to touch and view fire trucks, fire engines, and ambulances, classes in hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (commonly known as CPR), and watch as firefighters cut into a car demonstrating how to extricate trapped passengers. In addition, there will be excitement as teams from two separate crews compete to cut a car in a rescue scenario. Weather and call-permitting, our local Medical Evacuation Helicopter will be landing for an on-site visit. “You can interact with the equipment and meet local firefighters and rescue personnel” said McAllister.

“The average volunteer firefighter is putting in over 100 hours a month,” McAllister stated. “That is 100 hours you could be with your family. You’re missing your kid’s sporting events, time with your friends, college, your young adult life,” he continued. “It is because they care about their community and its’ citizens and fire-fighting is a way to help in their community.”

Let’s care about ourselves as much as they care about us. Learn what you can do to prevent uncontrolled fires.

Event Details:

Sunday, October 9, 2016
Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center
11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Apparatus interactive displays, CPR training, car-cutting competition, medical evac helicopter landing.

Top 5 Fire Prevention Tips

  1. Stay When Cooking: When frying, grilling or broiling, stay in sight.
  2. Keep Small Fires from Becoming Big Fires: Smoke outside and use deep, sturdy ashtrays. Blow out candles before falling asleep or leaving a room. Keep matches and lighters away from little hands.
  3. Install and Test Smoke Alarms: Every level and every bedroom in your home should have interconnected smoke alarms. Test monthly and replace them every 10 years.
  4. Inspect and Replace Electrical Cords: Any broken, cracked, damaged or loose electrical cords or connections should be unplugged and replaced immediately.
  5. Give Fire Places and Space Heaters Space: Move papers and other combustibles away from space heaters and fire places. Turn these off or put them completely out before leaving the room.


Emma Young is a freelance writer from Montclair temporarily living in Woodbridge. Her account of the fire which displaced her family on Memorial Day can be found here: https://princewilliamliving.com/2016/06/houses-fire-out/


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