Near the Brooks' Motor Lodge, where five people were killed and three seriously injured in a predawn fire, footprints left in a muddy lawn by the bare feet of those who managed to escaped dried yesterday under the midday sun.
Down Richmond Highway from Brook's where transit young people and low-income retires live for $12 a night or $60 a week, several of the people who left those footprints sat in another motel and spoke of the people who did survive.
George Carr, 33, who'd been at Brooks' for 10 days, said the smoke woke him up at about 4:30 a.m. He ran blind, he said, out of the building through hallways black with smoke, dragging his girlfriend with him.
"I mean smoke so you couldn't see, you couldn't breathe. When I got outside I told the police I heard some kids back inside yellin'. About 20 minutes later, they brought the kids out. They were dead," Carr said.
An 18-year-old woman who was baby-sitting at the motel, cut her right hand trying to force open the outside window of her motel room. She threw 8-month-old Joey out of the windown onto a blanket held by neighbors and then jumped out herself. Both were unhurt by the fall.
One couple was forced to jump from the second floor onto top of a nearby trailer before they could put on any clothes, withnesses said.
"Eighteen years down the tube," said owner George Brooks. "What else can I say." His motel was a "decent" place for the "American working man," he said.
The dead were identified as Helen Thornton, 27, and her two children, 4-year-old Kimberly and 19-month-old Richard R. Ely. Also killed wree Morris C. Pettist and Leroy Gregg, both 40.
Helen Thorton, a client of the Fairfax County Soical Services Department who lived with her father in Annandale, died with her tow children in a room rented to Pettit, a house painter who had lived in the motel for six weeks. Pettit was also found by firefighters in the same charred room.
Gregg, also a house painter, died where he was staying in a room rented by Robert Devine, according to motel owner Brooks. Devine suffered smoke inhalantion and second and third-degree burns over 20 percent of his body, a Washington Hospital Center spokesman said.
Gregg, according to a friend interviewed outside the gutted motel yesterday, used to live behing the motel in a log cabin, but was forced out when the cabin was condemned. Motel owner Brooks said yesterday Fregg did not have the money to rent a room.
The Brooks' Motor Lodge, at 7301 Richmond Hwy., was described by the people who lived there until yesterday morning as a "run down, but clean" place where "you could stay just about as cheap as you can stay anywhere."
Residents said yesterday floors in the motel were swept and linen was changed every day. One man who watched firemen cordon off the motel with white ropes said Brooks was a "damn good fells. If you didn't have any money, he'd let you stay there (in his motel) for free."
Fairfax County Fire Marshal Charles Dismuke said yesterday's fire, which caused about $80,000 damage, started on the first floor of the two-story building, probably ignited by a faulty television set.
Four-foot-high flames chased a woman staying in the room (identified as Sally Browning by owner Brooks) out into the hallway, Dismuke said. The woman told Dismuke she run off to call the fire department, leaving the room's door open. The fire roared down a hallway, up a stairwell and engulfed the second floor, Dismuke said.
On the second floor, boarders awoke choking on smoke. Larry Brown, 26, who had been in the motel eight months, said, "I was choking to death in my sleep. I couldn't get out the door because of the flames. I grabbed by pants and jumped out the window."
The front of the motel in the ground floor is a bar, which until two years ago had topless dancers, and it was not damaged by the fire. Brooks said he couldn't use the bar now, however, because the fire department has condemned the building.
Dismuke said that, although the motel did not conform to the latest fire code, which requires such safeguards as enclosed stairwells at each end of the hallway and steel fire doors, the building did conform to fire standards that existed in the 1940s when the motel was built. Dismuke said he could not characterize the motel as a firetrap.
Fairfax County Deputy Fire Chief Eugene Gray said yesterday, however, that the motel's fire code violations, such as no steel fire doors, has caused the Fire Department worry in the past. "We have been afraid of it for a long time," Gray said.
Firefighters took about an hour getting the blaze under control and in the process three firemen were injured. Fireman Michael Gibbs suffered an ankle fracture when a steel staircase at the rear of the motel collapsed. He was admitted to Mount Vernon Hospital. Two other firemen who suffered shoulder injures were treated and released.
In addition to motel resident Devine, who was listed in serious condition at Washington Hospital Ceter yesterday, the two others injured seriously were Roy Irby, 56, who suffered burns over 20 percent of his body and Mattie Jones, 46, who suffered burns over nearly 40 percent of his body. Irby was listed in serious condition at Washington Hospital Center and Jones in critical condition, according to a hospital spokesman.
As fire investigators sifted the ashes yesterday afternoon in the motel room where the fire started, those who fled the fire praised the American Red Cross for their speed and their help.
Several motel residents who lost all their possessions said they saw Red Cross workers at the first scene before they saw firemen. The Red Cross gave each victim $140 for clothes, three days worth of lodging at the Happy Inn Motel on Richmond Highway and money for food.