By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL -- An apartment fire caused by a lit cigarette in Front Royal forced residents from their homes Wednesday afternoon.
The Department of Fire and Rescue Services responded to the report of a commercial structure fire at Blue Ridge Eye Specialists, 56 Chester St., shortly after 1 p.m. The Fire Marshals Office linked the cause of the blaze to an "improperly discarded cigarette" from a second-floor apartment, which was destroyed. The fire spread along the building's wood-shake shingles.
The construction style of the building made battling the fire difficult, according to information in a news release issued by the department. Firefighters brought the blaze under control in less than 50 minutes after the first crews arrived to the scene. Firefighters remained on the scene for another three hours to extinguish hot spots and overhaul the building.
Local Red Cross workers came to assist the tenants of the second-floor apartments. None of the residents, office workers or firefighters reported injuries.
Department Chief Richard Mabie said at the scene that the resident who lives in the affected apartment was at home at the time of the fire.
Officers with the Front Royal Police Department also went to the scene to help evacuate residents and office workers.
Office workers and residents stood outside the building as firefighters worked to extinguish hot spots, pulling off charred pieces of the roof and cutting into the structure. Alan Fink, one of the doctors in the office below, was alerted to the fire.
"Someone yelled 'fire' here," Fink recalled. "I came outside and looked up and that first dormer was in flames, so I called 911 immediately."
Then Fink tried to alert the residents.
"I told them to get out," Fink said. "I went upstairs and knocked on the door. They weren't aware of the fire. There was no smoke in the apartment, which surprised me but yet I looked up at the top window there and there was smoke coming from outside the window."
Catherine Rew lives in an upstairs apartment and left the building when alerted.
"It looked bad enough for me. I smelled smoke ... so I knew something was on fire."
Jennifer Pickrell lives in another unit in the building and, along with other tenants, waited outside to hear if and when they could go back inside. Pickrell said someone from the doctor's office came to her door and told her about the fire.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org