(Updated at 4:00 p.m.) The man who died on Saturday in the house fire in Arlington’s Nauck neighborhood had already left the burning house before going back in to rescue the female victim.
According to the Arlington County Fire Department and witnesses on the 1900 block of S. Langley Street, the man — who, along with the female victim, has not been identified — was one of several people to have escaped the house before going back inside.
“It was so sad because you could hear people yell, ‘she’s still in there,'” Cheryl Johnson, who lives across the street, told ARLnow.com. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw him go in there. You have to really love someone to do something like that.”
It took 12-15 minutes for firefighters to knock the fire down, Deputy Fire Marshal Brian McGraw said on Saturday, but the house was completely engulfed in flames by that time. ACFD estimates the fire did $550,000 worth of damage to the home. Seven occupants were displaced by the fire and are receiving housing and assistance from the Red Cross.
Witnesses heard multiple “loud booms,” which a neighbor said was from the victims’ oxygen tanks. ACFD spokeswoman Sarah Marchegiani told ARLnow.com yesterday that several factors contributed to the speed of the blaze.
“The fire spread rapidly because of the wind,” Marchegiani said. “Wind gusts were sustained at 19 miles-per-hour and reached up to 28 miles-per-hour. The vinyl siding was also a factor. There’s nothing wrong with that siding, but it caused more rapid fire spread.”
The two bodies were discovered in an upstairs bedroom, ACFD said in a press release sent out just before 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. Firefighters attempted an initial rescue but were forced to retreat when the flames spread rapidly to the second floor and attic. One firefighter suffered smoke inhalation during the rescue.
Roxie Johnson, Cheryl’s mother, said she “thought the water was a little slow getting on the house,” but said there was a fire truck outside the house when the fire was barely showing on the front porch.
“The house went up like a piece of paper,” Roxie Johnson said. “I don’t know how many minutes it took to go up, but in no time it went all over the house.”
Cheryl Johnson said the fire had spread so quickly, and the wind was blowing so hard, that firefighters were spraying down the house next door in attempts to prevent it from catching on fire.
“You could feel the heat from our front steps,” she said. “I didn’t think anything could burn that fast.”
Marchegiani said the Fire Marshal’s investigation is ongoing and no conclusions are expected in the next week. An autopsy is being performed on the victims today. Eighty firefighters responded to the two-alarm fire, and ACFD and the Arlington County Police Department are being assisted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.