Nearly half a year after a 3-alarm fire damaged her Sumner Lake property, Kathi Kennedy and her family are finally back in their home following five long months of repairs and moving four separate times.
The Kennedy family decided on the home in the Manassas neighborhood because “they looked different” and they loved the town-like atmosphere the city offers.
They had been in their home for almost 10 years when a fire broke out at a home just two doors down. In fact, Kennedy's husband was one of the first ones to see the fire, which had started in the neighbor’s backyard. Kennedy said her husband ran over to the house to make sure everyone was out of the home and called 911. She said she will never forget that day.
“We were at home at the time, visiting with a friend from out-of-town” Kennedy recalled.
“The kids were down for a nap.”
Kennedy also recalled it being dry and “very windy that day.”
Because the massive fire spread so quickly, Kennedy and her family had to immediately go to a neighbor’s house.
The fire impacted a total of eight homes and families, completely destroying three of the homes, including one directly to the right of the Kennedy home, mere feet away from her home and family.
Firefighters from Manassas City, Manassas Park, Prince William County, Dale City and the Stonewall Volunteer Company all showed up at the location on Tillet Loop.
The Kennedy home and some of their belongings received $180,000 worth of smoke and water damage. The insurance company packed up their belongings for cleaning and review and their home required repairs and cleaning as well.
That is what would start the family’s nearly six-month adventure of hopping from a neighbor's house to a hotel to a rental property before finally settling in back at home . Co-habitating with another family quickly proved difficult, so the family of four moved out of their friends’ home and into a hotel.
Kathy was thankful the hotel allowed pets so the family dog could come along.
But that grew old fast and the insurance company wanted them in something a little less expensive, so they eventually rented a home. Kennedy didn’t mind; however, being away from home without your belongings certainly had some downsides.
Her children would ask about things; like where all their toys were? Had they burned up in the fire? The family still only had their belongings they took with them to the hotel— two or three weeks worth of stuff was all that they had time to grab.
But all was not blight. Kennedy said the fire brought the neighborhood closer and they received significant support from neighbors, friends and the neighborhood's homeowners association.
According to Kennedy, neighbors donated clothing for a yard sale to help raise money for the fire victims. In fact, Kennedy said her family alone received over a thousand dollars in cash and that didn’t even include the many gift cards to restaurants and Wal-mart they received. Some of their neighbors even made the them meals and offered them the opportunity to use their washing machine or other utilities.
The youth group at Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church down the road made her children baskets with toys and home-made cards. The Manassas City Fire Department also held a meeting with homeowners the Saturday following the fire at the Sumner Lake community clubhouse, offering support and going over the details of the investigation.
And when the end of February 2011 rolled around, the family received even greater news when they moved back into their house. And while Kennedy admits she is happy to be back home and settling into the same old routines, she said there are still remnants of what happened everywhere.
In fact, only one of the families who lived in one of the three houses completely destroyed has begun to rebuild.
Kennedy said she is concerned for the safety of her children as the weather starts to warm up and the kids navigate outside because of all the construction going on. Pieces of glass still littered her yard when she moved back in, so Kennedy didn't feel comfortable allowing her children to play out in the yard unsupervised like she could before the fire.
A home across the street that had its siding singed from the far-reaching flames still has not seen repairs and large strips of siding now dangle over a sidewalk where her children once rode their bikes.
Kennedy said she is “frustrated with the repairs.”
Kennedy said that while she has enjoyed going through all of their stuff they got back from their insurance company, some things were lost, which has been hard.
She can’t help but ask, “What else is missing that I don’t know about?”
Still, she tries to find the good in things and thinks as the experience as an intense Spring Cleaning, saying she has been “getting rid of things” she no longer needs like old baby clothes and items.
According to Manassas City Fire Marshal Francis J. Teevan, the fire was ruled accidental and the cause of the fire was determined to be an improperly distinguished cigarette or cigarettes. He said a resident of the home where the fire started often used a potted plant container in the rear of the home as an ashtray. Teevan said people don’t understand that the potting soil generally used in those types of containers is very combustible. “It’s not just dirt, like people think,” he said.
Fortunately, no injuries to residents were reported. And Teevan confirms no injuries to firefighters at the scene that September day.
Teevan also confirmed there was no reported issues of with water supply or pressure when battling the fire in the neighborhood.
In the meantime, Kennedy hopes that no family will have to go through a tragedy like this, but did say it is good for families to be prepared.
Kennedy said every family should have an emergency plan for a life-threatening event such as a fire. She said her family now has a bank deposit box for items that hard to replace such as passports, marriage licenses and photographs.
Teevan said members of the fire department are often called out to residents’ homes to make sure their smoke detectors are working properly.
Kennedy said one other family moved back into their home three weeks after hers. She has not spoken to any of the other families whose homes were completely destroyed.