Two major fires in Fairfax County, Virginia, on Wednesday were sparked by people who improperly discarded their cigarettes, officials say.
The fire that sent seniors scrambling from their apartments in a senior living community in Centreville was sparked by someone smoking in a third-floor apartment, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue officials said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. Flames then shot up to the fourth floor, the attic and other units.
More than 100 residents were displaced, and two residents were treated for smoke inhalation and injuries.
Hours later and about four miles to the southeast, a fire caused severe damage to United Bank in Fairfax. That blaze was started by someone who threw a cigarette into mulch outside, investigators found. The fire went up a pine tree and spread to the roof of the bank.
The impact of the two fires could have been much worse, interim Fire Chief John Caussin said.
"Thankfully, there was no loss of human life yesterday, and that in itself is remarkable when you look at the scale and the scope of what we were dealing with," he said.
Caussin warned smokers to always fully extinguish their cigarettes to prevent fires.
The fire on the 14400 block of Woodmere Court was reported about 12:45 p.m. Wednesday. Dozens of seniors, some with mobility issues, were forced to evacuate their apartments to flee the fast-moving fire.
"The whole top two floors were gone within 10 minutes," one witness said.
"The whole ceiling over there, roof was blazing," resident Janice Smith said. "Scared the heck out of me."
"I saw the flames, then I heard an explosion, and I saw debris just come flying out," resident Clay Kemp said.
Firefighters fought the blaze for several hours. Someone smoking on a patio started it, they said.
On Thursday, firefighters helped residents retrieve their belongings, including medication, from their damaged homes.
Resident Kim Holland's home was completely destroyed. The roof caved in.
"Everything that I had in my life was in there, and now it's just trash," she said.
When flames erupted, Holland ran outside, leaving valuable possessions behind.
"I felt like giving up yesterday," she said.
Firefighters went back inside to get medication she needed. They also went above and beyond for Holland, taking out family photos. A GoFundMe page has been created for Holland.
It's unclear if or when residents will be able to return to their homes.
The fire at the bank at the Fair Lakes Shopping Center broke out about 4 p.m. Chopper4 footage showed flames leaping from the roof.
Two other major fires broke out in the D.C. area on Wednesday. Also in Centreville, less than two miles from the senior living community fire, flames engulfed two rows of townhouses on the 5800 block of Watermark Circle. In Lanham, Maryland, a fire ripped through an entire block.
Wednesday was the hottest day of the season so far, with the high reaching 84 degrees. The region is in the middle of one of its driest springs in recent memory, Storm Team4 meteorologist Doug Kammerer said.