A fire yesterday morning in the Arlington County home of presidential inaugural committee cochairman Robert Keith Gray gutted the kitchen and sauna and caused extensive smoke damage to the rest of the house, with the loss estimated at $500,000.
The fire in Gray's two-story brick home at 2146 N. Courthouse Road overlooking the George Washington Parkway was believed to have started in the kitchen from a woodburning stove, quickly spreading to the hallway and sauna, a spokesman for the fire department said.
Gray, a bachelor, was not in the house when the fire broke out.
Two other fires in the Washington area caused the deaths of two elderly men over the weekend.
John T. Sprouse, 75, of 1425 N St. NW was found dead in the bedroom of his fifth floor apartment by firefighters who extinguished a fire they believed was started by careless smoking.
A second blaze fatally injured an elderly man in an apartment at 405 Tenth St. NE who has not yet been identified, fire officials said. They were investigating the cause of the fire, and no damage estimates were available.
Firefighters responded to the call at Gray's house at 10:18 a.m. Neighbors said that within 10 minutes after the smoke was first noticed, the rooms were gutted. "But you couldn't see any flames from the outside, just smoke. Because of the brick house and slate roof, the flames never broke through," said Roy Rembert, who lives across the street.
Gray, 55, who heads the Washington office of the public relations firm Hill and Knowlton and co-chairs Ronald Reagan's inaugural committee with Charles Z. Wick, had left for the committee office shortly before the fire began and there was no one else at the house. Gray's pet dog, Opey, died of smoke inhalation.
"He's not an acquiring type of person, but that house was very personal to him," said an aide at Gray's office. Gray has lived in the house for 20 years.
He declined to comment on the fire but said it destroyed a number of particularly valuable items, including a portrait of Andrew Jackson as a young man, English oak paneling dating back to 1402 that Gray brought from France to line his den, and political memorabilia from his years in the White House as President Eisenhower's appointments secretary and later secretary of the cabinet.