Fire Engulfs Home Featured in Oprah's Magazine

Home belonged to former DC School Board President Peggy Cafritz

A massive fire ripped through a sprawling house in upper northwest Washington Wednesday night, destroying the home of a well-known District resident.

It broke out at about 8:15 p.m. in the 3000 block of Chain Bridge Road, near American University. Neighbors called 911, but by the time firefighters arrived, the house was engulfed. Flames shot from the house for several hours, as firefighters struggled to get it under control.

The home belongs to former D.C. School Board president Peggy Cooper Cafritz and was recently featured in Oprah Winfrey's magazine. According to D.C. Fire Chief Dennis Rubin, it appears no one who lived at the home was inside when the fire broke out; Rubin said fire officials were able to get in touch with all four people who live in the home.

The Cafritzs' neighbor, Peter Gillon, said he was able to get inside the home and rescue the family's dogs. However, Cafritz was an avid art collector, and Gillon believes her priceless collection of art was destroyed.  Tour the home and the art that was inside by clicking here.

Firefighters ran into problems after some initial success battling the blaze inside, fire officials said.

"We really struggled with the water pressure," said D.C. Fire and EMS spokesman Pete Piringer. "About 10 or 15 minutes later at 8:30 we called for a second alarm. Eventually we had about 150 firefighters on the scene."

"I called the fire department, they were here within 10 minutes, but once they got the hoses connected, it took at least a half hour for them to get any water pressure at all into the hoses," Gillon said. "By then, it was pretty much out of control."

Gillon points to low water pressure in the neighborhood as an ongoing problem.

"We've had water pressure problems on this street for months and months, in fact, yesterday, we had no water at all," he said.

"We believe with appropriate water supply we would have been able to curb this," Rubin said. "Exactly what happened to the water supply we're not sure."

The hydrants are the responsibility of the Water and Sewer Authority.

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"We've gone through our water distribution system in collaboration with the fire department to ensure that we can deliver 1,000 gallons per minute to any residence within in the District," said WASA Assistant General Manager Charles Kiely. "We believe that there was 1,000 gallons per minute available, and that's what we have crews out on the street right now to confirm."

Fire officials believe the home is a total loss.

The following roads remained closed Thursday morning as firefighters continued to battle flare-ups and investigate: 

  • Loughboro Road between University Terrace and Foxhall Road
  • Chain Bridge Road between Loughboro Road and McArthur Boulevard

Traffic was rerouted off Arizona Avenue N.W. to these alternate routes:

Motorists are advised to avoid the area and take alternate routes using Foxhall Road, Reservoir Road, Canal Road or McArthur Boulevard. Heavy traffic volumes should be expected.

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