Arlington, VA

Planning to light off a few fireworks at home this Fourth of July weekend?

You’re not alone. Fireworks sales have skyrocketed this year as the usual public displays are cancelled or scaled back, and as people opt to stay away from the usual crowds.

While a deadly global pandemic is obviously cause for concern, socially distanced at-home fireworks can be dangerous too. Thousands of people report fireworks-related injuries each year and Arlington is no exception, although the types of fireworks allowed in Virginia are more tame than those permitted by some other states.

To help spread the word about fireworks safety, the Arlington County Fire Department held a demonstration at its training center near Shirlington yesterday. A video from the event, produced by ARLnow staff photographer Jay Westcott, is above.

More fireworks safety tips from the fire department’s website are below.

If you plan to use fireworks outside your home, follow these legal and safety tips:

Limitations & Prohibitions

  • Illegal Fireworks include: Fireworks that explode, emit flames or sparks to a distance greater than 12 feet, have a burning fuse less than one and one half (1.5) inches long with a burning rate of less than 4 seconds which emit projectiles; Fireworks that explode in any form, such as firecrackers, mortars and cherry bombs; Fireworks that leave the ground or rise in the air (other than a fountain), such as bottle rockets, mortars or roman candles.
  • The sale of fireworks to minors (less than 18 years of age) is prohibited, unless a parent or legal guardian accompanies the minor.
  • Usage of permissible fireworks by minors (less than 18 years of age) must be under adult supervision.
  • Permissible fireworks shall be used on private property with the permission of the property owner. Use of any fireworks on County, State of Federal property, such as streets, schools and parks, or any public right of way, is prohibited.
  • The penalty for possession, distribution, use or sale of illegal fireworks is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 or 12 months in jail, or both, and confiscation of the fireworks. Parties are subject to additional charges for use of illegal fireworks, such as failure to obtain a Fireworks Permit
  • Application and not being a Virginia State licensed Pyro technician.

Fireworks Safety Tips

  • Keep a minimum clearance of 25 feet from people and buildings.
  • Wet down the area before shooting fireworks.
  • Follow the label directions carefully and use good sense.
  • Buy fireworks only from established retail outlets displaying a valid permit issued by the Arlington County Fire Department Fire Prevention Office.
  • A responsible adult, whom is not under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, must supervise fireworks activities at all times.
  • Never allow young children to handle fireworks.
  • Use fireworks outdoors only, in a clear area, away from buildings and vehicles.
  • Light only one a time and then move away.
  • Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
  • Keep a garden hose nearby or a bucket of water to place used fireworks in. Let them soak to ensure extinguishment before placing in regular trash for pickup.

File photo

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The National Park Service has a 3,000 pound problem: a car that ran so far off the GW Parkway that it wound up near the banks of the Potomac River.

The crash happened the afternoon of Sunday, June 7, just north of Windy Run in Arlington County.

Arlington firefighters, along with the D.C. police Harbor Patrol Unit, the D.C. fire boat and the U.S. Park Police helicopter responded to the crash scene after a report of a vehicle travelling in the northbound lanes that went over an embankment.

“Upon our arrival our incident commanders established a unified command with all agencies and our personnel located the vehicle near the water’s edge, approximately 60 feet down the embankment,” ACFD spokesman Capt. Justin Tirelli told ARLnow earlier this month.

“The driver had already extricated himself from the vehicle and we confirmed that he was the only occupant of the vehicle,” Tirelli continued. “ACFD medical personnel treated the patient and transferred care from the Virginia shoreline to the DCFD fire boat, where he was transported with non-life threatening injuries to a waiting ambulance on the D.C. shoreline.”

Hikers on the rocky Potomac Heritage Trail have since been encountering the startling sight of the crashed car, not knowing for sure whether anyone is inside.

“I was hiking the Potomac Heritage Trail this weekend and there is a car down there that was not there a few weeks ago,” local resident Melissa Mathews said in an email to ARLnow earlier this week. “It must have been driven off of the GW Parkway that runs (far, far) above the trail. The car has been tagged by either insurance or police so I assume there is no body inside.”

The crashed vehicle is located on national parkland, within the confines of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

U.S. Park Police spokesman Sgt. Eduardo Delgado tells ARLnow that the car will be removed, but authorities are still trying to figure out how to do that, exactly.

“The National Park Service is still trying to determine the best course of action for the vehicle’s removal,” Delgado said.

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(Updated at 4:35 p.m.) Homes and businesses in several north Arlington neighborhoods were without power late Wednesday afternoon.

The outages, roughly centered around Virginia Hospital Center, were reported after the fire department was dispatched to the intersection of N. George Mason Drive and Washington Blvd for a report of a utility pole on fire.

As of 4:30 p.m., Dominion was now reporting about 1,775 customers without electricity as a result of the outage, which extended from the Yorktown neighborhood to the north to the Bluemont neighborhood in the south.

A similar pole fire prompted a fire department response in the Penrose neighborhood on Monday, as seen below.

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(Updated at 11:35 a.m.) Firefighters from Arlington and Fairfax County battled a blaze in a home’s detached garage this morning.

The fire broke out around 10:30 a.m. on the 5800 block of 2nd Street S., in the Glencarlyn neighborhood near Kenmore Middle School. It sent a plume of thick black smoke into the clear sky, which could be seen from a distance.

The fire spread to “other outdoor structures” nearby,” ACFD said, but firefighters were able to extinguish the fire before it further consumed the garage. No injuries were reported.

A vintage Volkswagen Beetle appears to have been destroyed inside the garage.

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Arlington County is planning to start regular testing of public safety personnel and critical employees, ARLnow has learned.

The county has acquired a rapid testing machine, which is currently undergoing a certification process. Once its accuracy is certified, it will be used to regularly test law enforcement, fire department and emergency communications personnel, as well as public health and other critical county employees.

Aaron Miller, the county’s Director of Public Safety Communications & Emergency Management, tells ARLnow that dozens of public safety personnel were quarantined at one point last month due to possible exposure to the coronavirus. At least one firefighter, and potentially several more, had tested positive for the virus in by late April. Previously, county officials declined to provide figures about quarantine levels among first responders.

In a written statement, Miller emphasized that the quarantines did not result in a reduction of emergency services in the county.

Arlington County has obtained a quantity of Mesa Biotech’s Accula SARS-Cov-2 Tests, an FDA-approved “rapid” molecular PCR test cleared for use in patient care settings outside of the clinical laboratory environment. The rapid testing system is currently under laboratory-required validation with known positive and negative samples. Once the validation is completed, we plan to develop a testing strategy for approval by the Public Health Department. First responder testing will allow quick diagnosis of police, fire, sheriff, 9-1-1, and public health personnel, as well as other critical employees who are experience symptoms while on or off duty. Testing should be available during the first part of June.

The number of firefighters, police officers, and sheriff’s deputies in quarantine fluctuated during May. The total number ranged from single digits into the forties. Following the Public Health Department’s direction, each case is investigated, testing ordered as appropriate, and the length of quarantine or isolation is determined in consultation with physicians and public health specialists. The safety of our personnel and their families is a top priority. Regardless of the number of quarantines, the levels of emergency or preventive services has not decreased for Arlington County. The County is always monitoring its workforce capacity and continues to maintain staffing levels for the services needed for Arlington residents.

In addition, County takes many steps to protect its essential workers. This includes providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to all frontline employees, increasing cleaning of facilities and equipment, quarantining employees who may have been exposed, modifying services to limit interactions between staff and promote social distancing, and implementing rotational schedules or extended hours to ensure high-priority essential services continue.

The first responder testing came to light last week in remarks made by County Board Chair Libby Garvey during an online interview with the moderator of a popular local Facebook group.

During the interview, Garvey said she was concerned that Virginia might have to go back to a stay-at-home order if the current Phase 1 reopening results in additional virus spread.

“I think it’s a really good question as to whether we’ll be able to stay in this phase or move back,” she said. “I’m pretty confident here in Arlington, we’re continuing to see it’s kind of level, but not great — the virus is still here.”

Garvey was also asked about the relative paucity of testing in Arlington, which has since increased, at least temporarily. She said part of the blame falls on the state government for continuing to require that those seeking testing have a doctor’s note and symptoms. Such testing does not catch COVID cases among asymptomatic spreaders, who have the virus but don’t have the symptoms.

Reuben Varghese, Arlington’s Public Health Director, tells ARLnow that the directive mostly affects county-run sites, like the drive-through testing site near Washington-Liberty High School and the walk-up site along Columbia Pike. He said he hopes to work with the state to conduct more mass-testing events that do not require a doctor’s note.

“At this time, [Virginia Dept. of Health] guidelines still require a doctor’s order for most sample collections being done in Arlington County, such as at the Quincy and Arlington Mill sites, and there are no plans to change those guidelines at County-partnered sites,” he said. “However, at the larger community testing events, such as the one on May 26 at Barcroft, no appointment or doctor’s referral was needed. Given the overwhelming response to that site and to others like it around the region, we would expect the Commonwealth to continue these types of testing efforts. However, at this time, another event has not been scheduled here in Arlington.”

In Arlington, meanwhile, the number of new reported cases has remained low for a fourth consecutive day. Ten new cases and one new hospitalization was reported overnight, for a cumulative total of 2,133 cases, 377 hospitalizations and 117 deaths.

Arlington’s seven-day test positivity rate has fallen below 10% for the first time since mid-March, as the local outbreak began. The positivity rate, as reported by the state health department, currently stands at 9.5%.

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Update at 3:15 p.m. — The road has reopened, Arlington County says.

Earlier: Washington Blvd is closed at N. Quantico Street due to a reported gas leak.

Firefighters and police are on scene of the leak, which was large enough to prompt first responders to block traffic in both directions. The location of the closure is east of East Falls Church and west of Westover.

Drivers are being detoured onto local streets, though traffic volume remains relatively light in Arlington due to the pandemic.

A Washington Gas crew is said to be en route. No word yet on when the road will reopen.

Map via Google Maps

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A sequence of events led to the side of an apartment building in the Long Branch Creek neighborhood catching on fire Monday evening.

The Arlington County Fire Department responded to a reported structure fire on the 2400 block of 27th Court S. around 7:30 p.m. Residents were evacuated as firefighters worked to extinguish the smoky fire.

Within minutes, the flames were out and the cleanup work was starting.

ACFD spokesman Capt. Justin Tirelli tells ARLnow that the blaze was caused by “improperly discarded smoking materials” that caught mulch on fire and subsequently spread to the vinyl siding of the building. From there, the flames crept up the side of the building and burned the plywood under the siding.

The fire was quickly extinguished, no one was injured, and no residents were displaced. Tirelli said the incident “seems accidental” and no charges are pending.

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(Updated at 11:55 a.m.) Chain Bridge was temporarily closed Friday morning due to a search and rescue operation.

Firefighters from D.C. and Arlington, along with U.S. Park Police, were searching for a fisherman who reportedly fell into the Potomac River and did not resurface.

Numerous emergency responders arrived on scene, looking for the man from the shoreline, the bridge and by boat. (The photo above shows a previous rescue operation in the same general area, in March.)

Inbound traffic on Glebe Road was being diverted onto Chain Bridge Road. As of 9 a.m. the incident was moving from being a rescue operation to a recovery operation, with the reported missing person presumed dead, and as of 9:45 a.m. Chain Bridge was being reopened.

The Washington Post reported late Friday morning that a 67-year-old man had died after falling into the river around 7:40 a.m.

More via social media:

File photo

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(Updated at 10:30 p.m.) N. Glebe Road is blocked between Walker Chapel and Chain Bridge by a serious crash.

The single-vehicle crash happened shortly after 7:30 p.m. and drew a large rescue response. Firefighters extricated at two injured people from a heavily-damaged car, near the Military Road/Old Glebe Road overpass.

There were a total of three vehicle occupants and all three were injured, according to an Arlington County Fire Department spokesman. The driver suffered non-life-threatening injuries, a passenger suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries, and another passenger is fighting for his life with critical injuries, said Capt. Justin Tirelli.

All three were transported to local hospitals. A crowd gathered on the bridge as police interviewed witnesses.

After the crash, debris could be seen on the hillside leading down to Glebe from Old Glebe. Arlington County Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage later confirmed to ARLnow that the car had rolled down the embankment.

The road remains closed as a result of the cleanup and investigation. Drivers are being encouraged to avoid the area.

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(Updated at 11:20 a.m.) The Arlington County Fire Department has seen a reduction in calls amid the coronavirus pandemic, though its members have remained busy.

In a typical day, ACFD dispatches personnel to about 80 calls. Currently, the number of daily dispatches is averaging in the mid-60s, according to spokesman Capt. Justin Tirelli.

Calls for things like vehicle crashes, scooter accidents, and workplace slip-and-fall injuries are down sharply, with fewer people commuting to work. Dispatches for possible structure fires are about the same, Tirelli said, but there have been few actual fires over the past few weeks.

“Structure fires are often in places that are not occupied,” he explained. “Now that people are not leaving the house to go to work, they’re at home and they’ve been able to catch it before something happens.”

Medical calls are an key metric to track, a potential harbinger of a worsening outbreak. Tirelli said medical calls are actually down slightly, though that doesn’t tell the full story. Those who are calling are often exhibiting more serious symptoms.

“It could be because people are reluctant to call for help — waiting longer before calling 911,” he said, also noting that with COVID-19 “a lot of people don’t feel the symptoms until it’s very late in the game.”

Anecdotally, ARLnow has heard what seems like an increase in calls for COVID and flu-like-symptoms over the past week. This week alone, we’ve taken note of two life-threatening, CPR-in-progress calls at long-term care facilities. But it’s not just older residents calling for help due to possible COVID-19 symptoms — we also heard a call for a woman in her 20s, in an apartment building, experiencing trouble breathing.

Though slightly reduced in number, on net the medical calls have taken more personnel time due to the increased severity of the symptoms and the need for firefighters to protect themselves, Tirelli said.

“Our [Personal Protective Equipment] process is very methodical,” he said.

Tirelli said there has been no shortage of ambulances in the county and “we’ve been able to manage really well” to meet all needs without issues, thanks in part to some smart planning and actions.

Two-and-a-half weeks ago the county opened a telemedicine line in its dispatch center, to steer those with medical concerns but no symptoms to other resources. More recently, ACFD deployed what it’s calling an “Omega unit” — an SUV staffed by an EMT and an APO, the county’s most highly-trained paramedics. The Omega unit evaluates (in full protective gear) those with minor COVID-like symptoms, while keeping ambulances that can transport patients in service for life-threatening emergencies.

“Medical matchmaking,” Tirelli explained, “using the right resources for the right patients. That reduces both unnecessary ambulance calls and unnecessary ER visits.”

Even though hospitals are doing their best to isolate COVID-19 patients, “the emergency room is not a safe place to be right now…when there’s a very contagious virus like this,” he said.

The fire department expects that Arlington’s COVID cases have not peaked yet, Tirelli said, and the department remains ready to handle a future surge of calls. A second Omega unit can also be deployed, if necessary.

One thing residents can do to help keep firefighters safe and ready to respond to the most serious calls is to dial the right number for help depending on the situation.

“If someone is not having an emergency, the best place for medical advice is the Health Department hotline: 703-228-7999,” Tirelli said. “If they are having an emergency they should call 911.”

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(Updated at 10:15 a.m.) The reported number of people who have died from COVID-19 complications in Arlington increased by three overnight.

The death count rose from 20 to 23, according to the latest Virginia Health Department data. Arlington currently has 625 known coronavirus cases, 114 hospitalizations, 10 outbreaks and 2,487 tests conducted. There were 593 cases reported on Monday.

Some experts believe that the actual number of coronavirus cases may be as much as 10-20 times higher than the reported numbers. There’s also evidence of many more coronavirus-related deaths than reported.

Among the 10 outbreaks in Arlington reported by VDH are:

  • 5 in long-term care facilities (nursing homes, assisted living facilities, etc.)
  • 3 in healthcare settings (medical offices, fire and EMS stations, etc.)
  • 1 in congregate setting (business, apartment building, church, etc.)

ARLnow has continued to ask Arlington County officials for additional details about local outbreaks, though officials have so far declined to provide data beyond what is published online by the state health department.

On Monday ARLnow asked about coronavirus cases and those in quarantine among police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and firefighter/medics. We also asked about safety measures being taken by county employees.

A county spokeswoman did not provide any figures and instead issued the following statement from Aaron Miller, Arlington’s Director of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management:

Arlington’s overall numbers are updated daily on the Virginia Department of Health website. Our Public Health Division does not provide information on reportable diseases on less than a county level.

The County is always monitoring its workforce capacity. We continue to be able to maintain staffing levels for the services needed for Arlington residents.

The County is taking many steps to protect its essential workers, as well as the Arlington community. They include providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to all frontline employees, increasing cleaning of facilities and equipment, quarantining employees who may have been exposed, modifying services to limit interactions between staff and promote social distancing, and implementing rotational schedules or extended hours to ensure high priority essential services continue.

The county has not provided an official update on public safety coronavirus cases since it first announced a firefighter testing positive on March 24. A tipster told ARLnow last week that there were 3 firefighters who have tested postitive and 37 in quarantine.

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