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Posted May 16, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Front Royal fire claims family's home, injures two firefighters

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- An early Wednesday morning fire in Front Royal destroyed a house, injured two firefighters and sent all four family members jumping through first floor bedroom windows to safety outside.

The blaze left the home at 1326 Baron Place a charred ruin. In a press release, the Warren County Fire and Rescue Services declared the home and its contents a total loss estimated at more than $220,000.

The owner, John Martocci, stood on his lawn Wednesday afternoon recounting the wrenching experience of the night before.

Martocci said he was unsure what awakened him around 4 a.m. but "when I opened the door to the bedroom, a big old thing of smoke came up, and I just reacted." Martocci, his wife and two boys, ages 12 and 17, all went through bedroom windows in escaping the fire.

Chief Richard E. Mabie of the Warren County Fire and Rescue Services said the family was lucky to have escaped uninjured. He said family members jumped from their bedroom windows after finding the fire blocking exit routes through the house's interior.

One of the Martocci family's two dogs died from smoke inhalation during the fire. Mabie also said several firefighters fell through a hole in the floor while fighting the fire. One was treated at the scene and taken to Warren Memorial Hospital. He was treated at the hospital for first and second degree burns to both legs and later released, Mabie said.

Fire department records show the first trucks reached the fire about seven minutes after being called to the scene. Fire was visible from the living areas and roof of the house upon their arrival, Mabie said.

Martocci said he and his family have taken up temporary residence in a camper his mother owns at the North Fork Resort.

Martocci said the fire "destroyed my whole life, everything I worked for, but I've got my family which is the most important thing. Everything else is materialistic."

Warren County Fire Marshal Gerry R. Maiatico said he would issue an official finding on the cause of the fire later today. Maiatico said the leading theory is that a polyurethane wood finisher mixed with sawdust started the fire through a heated chemical reaction.

Martocci said he was using polyurethane wood finisher while installing hardwood floors in his home and stored the residual sawdust and wood finisher in a bag.

The fire is the second since Saturday in which wood finisher mixing with other material is suspected or officially identified as the cause

Maiatico said another fire on Saturday night at a vacation home at 143 Clubhouse Road in the High Knob area destroyed an outbuilding and caused $10,000 damage. He said rags coated with polyurethane wood finisher started the fire on the floor of the outbuilding by generating intense heat during the drying out process.

"You have basically a wick waiting for enough heat to generate a fire," Maiatico said of the rags.

The Saturday night fire was only the second chemically-induced fire the department has responded to in five years, Maiatico said.

"It's nowhere near a leading cause in our fire statistics," he said.

Maiatico added that it appears that many homeowners have launched home improvement and repair projects before the weather turns uncomfortably hot. Maiatico urged homeowners using wood finisher to heed manufacturers' advice about stowing disposable items mixed with wood finisher in a water-filled metal container with a tight fitting lid.

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