When flames ravaged the Bayvue Apartments in Dale City this week, firefighters took charge of the blaze, controlling it in 45 minutes. But it was Prince William County Red Cross volunteers who took care of the victims.
Twenty families were left temporarily homeless when fire roared through the attic of 1300 Bayside Ave. about 2 p.m. Monday, in what firefighters called the worst local blaze in several years. The fire erupted in the attic, leaving the building's upper story gutted and two bottom floors severely damaged from water and smoke.
Damage was estimated at $500,000. The fire apparently was caused by a short in an electrical cable running from the basement to the attic, said Capt. Matt Smolsky of the Prince William Fire Marshal's Office. He said there was no faulty wiring or apparent reason for the short.
Representatives from the local Red Cross's emergency disaster action team were on the scene to begin helping the families find temporary shelter, according to LaDonna Tatum, director of Prince William County Red Cross emergency services.
"Right now we have almost everybody sheltered in a motel, some were issued vouchers for new clothing and for food," Tatum said Tuesday. "The first day we were only concerned about taking care of their immediate needs for food, shelter and clothing. Now, we will be seeing them to determine what their longer-term needs are."
Ronnie Hill was out of town when the fire broke out. His building, next door to the burned structure, was closed by firefighters after power was cut. The power sources between the two structures were connected.
Volunteers arranged for Hill to stay at a nearby motel until he could move back into his apartment.
"I didn't know anything about the fire until I got back and heard about it," Hill said, as he checked into the Econo Travel motel on Jefferson Davis Highway. "I couldn't even get over there to see what happened. I can't really believe this."
The day after the Bayvue Apartments fire, Red Cross volunteers were working to secure housing for a family of five whose house burned on Taney Road in Manassas, Tatum said.
Last week, they worked to find shelter for three county families who were left homeless by blazes.
"If you are left homeless because of a fire, the first agency you would have contact with is the Red Cross," said Sara Anderson, director of emergency assistance for Action in Community Through Service, known as ACTS.
"Their disaster services works if it's a natural disaster, fire or flood or something like that," she said. "They do what they can to provide as much immediate help as they can. Hopefully people have family and friends they can stay with, but if not, the Red Cross arranges to put them in hotels. If they need additional resources, then they might contact us."
Many of the families displaced in Monday's fire went to stay with family members, officials of the apartment complex said. The eight families in the burned building will be moved into new apartments and the Red Cross will provide dishes, cookware, bedding and some other items, authorities said.
No residents were injured in the blaze, but the Red Cross provides medical supplies and medicine to replace items damaged in fires, she said.
Counseling was also made available to help people deal with the tragedy, she said.
"A lot of them are still in shock," Tatum said. "When we were over there, I saw a lot of pacing. There were some tears. A lot of people clung to their pets. One woman came in, dripping with sweat, clutching her dog and said she needed to have something to drink immediately. We gave her some water and before she took a sip, she gave it to the dog and let him drink first. That was very sweet."
Econo Travel allowed the fire victims to bring their pets into the hotel, which provided half-price lodging to the Red Cross, manager Tom Griffith said.
About 10 rooms were occupied Tuesday morning by victims of the fire. Others were staying at another motel nearby.
The local Red Cross, part of the international emergency relief agency, was operating out of a command post at the apartment complex office. About 60 residents were affected by the fire, authorities said.
Tatum said her staff was recommending that the families try to carry on as usual Tuesday, despite the devastation of their loss.
"We are encouraging them to go back to work and to continue with their regular routines," she said. "They are having to make arrangements, and that is keeping them busy. And that really does help."
Tatum said her agency will continue to work with the fire victims until each is "safe, sanitary and secure."
"We want them to know that we will be there to take care of them," she said. "We won't just see them today and forget."
ACTS, a nonprofit agency partially funded by 37 local church congregations, is sometimes called into fire emergency situations to provide housing in its 15-bed shelter, Anderson said. The agency also provides meals and clothing in emergencies, she added.