Yesterday, at about 3pm, I noticed the sound of sirens. It just kept passing by, over and over. I opened the back door and looked through the storm door after several minutes of this. There were more fire trucks and police vehicles passing by the road behind my house. I opened the storm door and stuck my head out. It smelled like a campfire. My neighborhood has adjoined homes (groups of five townhouses), and I suspected some townhouses were on fire. More and more fire trucks and police cars were showing up, traffic was slowing down.
I take the dogs out for some quick relief every day at 4pm. I’m outside for no more than three minutes. I bring Stephen out and set him in the grass while I walk around the island behind our house. Stephen just walks back to the house and waits for me on the steps every day. He has no interest in watching us walk in circles. I took the dogs out at 4pm yesterday and there were people everywhere. People had walked from all over with their children. People everywhere in the grass just staring. The sirens were loud and blinking lights were all over. Traffic on the road behind my house was stopped in both directions, with a lane open down the middle. This middle lane had a near-constant stream of emergency vehicles (now including ambulances) going in one direction. My dogs were nervous; they had their tails down. They were unable to go to the bathroom because of all the commotion, and Stephen was uncomfortable with all the sirens. When I was making my second pass around the small island, I saw a woman get out of her car in the gridlock, with her cell phone on her ear and her purse and keys in her hand. She had a panicked look on her face and she began running down the sidewalk as fast as she could. I heard people screaming at the next intersection, about 200 yards away.
That’s when I noticed the helicopters coming. We all went back inside, but everything just kept getting louder. There were helicopters on all sides, hovering at different heights and different locations. We stayed inside for about 30 minutes. The dogs were very tense. Around 4:30, I put some shoes on Stephen and we walked up the street towards the crowds. As we were walking up the street, there was a constant stream of government vehicles going into the neighborhood across the street. It’s a community with large single-family homes. The houses are only about 10-15 feet away from each other in some places. People were saying that there were multiple houses on fire (one person even said that “some kid caught on fire.” the stories were wildly different, of course). This had been going on for an hour already, and there were still vehicles coming to the scene. The entire street was shut down to traffic of any kind–even school buses–and they were only letting foot traffic into the neighborhood if you had proper identification to prove that you lived there. This is a mile from the fire, so we didn’t even know exactly what was going on. They weren’t letting anyone within a mile of the scene.
I started feeling uncomfortable when I saw a) tons of unmarked trucks b) unmarked armored vehicles and c) large flat-bed trucks. There was still a near-constant team of response vehicles, and there were helicopters everywhere. I don’t know what I thought. It seemed like someone suspected foul play in these house fires. The street behind my house started to look like a scene out of Men In Black or E.T. All traffic was shut down except for massive trucks. People gawking everywhere. People were confused, some were scared. Everyone had abandoned their vehicles on the side streets. It was near pandemonium. We went back inside after a few minutes of that.
By about 5:15pm, the sirens had quieted down and most of the helicopters were gone. The dogs had relaxed enough to go outside and do their business. There were still fire trucks lining the streets up to a mile away from the fire, but the lights were flashing and the sirens were silenced. There was only one or two helicopters in the air, and they were news helicopters making slow circles. The lead story on both of the Washington D.C. 6 o’clock news programs was a “massive fire in Northern Virginia.” The helicopter video was stunning. Three massive homes were leveled in a matter of ninety minutes, just down the street from us. One of our walking routes goes right through there because of the nice pond behind those homes. My wife ran by there this morning on her morning jog and said there is still a fire truck and police car at the scene, along with cranes and flood lights. This news page keeps updating and getting longer when more information comes in. Eleven people in total were displaced from their homes. Quite a tragedy. They say the fire spread so quickly that all three houses were engulfed in flames at the same time.