When Brian Webb became pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church in Annandale three years ago, he declined the offer to live rent-free in the church's parsonage. He already had a home and really didn't need to move.
A few months ago, the church instead allowed one of its 50 members to live in the two-story home, Webb said. Terry Maye, 42, a teacher's assistant at Annandale High School and a single mother, had suffered a series of strokes and, with rising medical bills, was struggling to raise her two teenage boys. The parsonage soon became a popular hangout for the church's teenage members, who loved her cooking and treated her like a second mother.
On Monday night, Maye was home alone about 8:30 p.m. when the 82-year-old wooden house caught fire, according to Fairfax County fire officials. Her body was found in a front room, where she died of smoke inhalation, they said.
Investigators said the fire originated near the furnace and caused about $250,000 in damage. They are trying to determine the cause.
"We cannot say whether it's a malfunction of the furnace or whether there was combustible material near the furnace," said Lt. Mark Stone, a fire department spokesman. "We've had a lot of preventable fires this year, but in this case, we don't know for sure if it was preventable."
At the time of the fire, Maye's sons Rick, 17, and John, 15, were out with friends, Webb said. A deacon at the church, in the 3500 block of Annandale Road, said her sons would like to stay with the church if they can.
Word about Maye's death spread quickly through a phone tree operated by the church's deacons. After the fire Monday night, many members visited Maranatha, which means the "Lord Comes" in Greek.
Yesterday afternoon, church members, including Maye's two sons, went to the church's property to survey the damage. The blaze charred almost anything with color: green plastic bowls, a red tricycle and a brown-and-white striped mattress. Inside the house, blackened chunks of wood dangled from ceilings and a blackened staircase appeared to be on the verge of collapse.
The sons walked around the wreckage with their eyes downward. They declined to comment through the pastor.
"Everybody's upset," Webb said. "She was finally doing well. She hadn't had a stroke in a while. She lost a lot of weight. She was looking great."
Aside from being a teacher's assistant, Maye operated a printing company out of the parsonage and sold business cards and wedding invitations, Webb said. On Tuesday nights, she helped teach courses on the Bible to the young congregants.
"She could relate to us better than any adult we knew. She was laid-back but strict," said a 14-year-old Fairfax County boy who is friends with Maye's sons. "She always made sure I was fed and that I had a jacket on. Sometimes, I called her 'Mom.' She called me her third son."