House destroyed after second fire in 24 hours

Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue personnel throw water on the rear of this home at 370 Little Sorrel Drive in Strasburg on Saturday morning. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – About 13 hours after firefighters cleared the scene of a Friday house fire at 370 Little Sorrel Road, flames ignited at the residence again.

Shenandoah County Fire Marshal David Ferguson said the house was fully engulfed when units arrived at the house about 7:30 a.m. Saturday. He added that the department routinely checks fires after they have been extinguished due to fears of rekindling, and everything appeared to be OK on Friday when passes were made at 10 p.m. and midnight.

Building Official Mark Griffey estimated that damages increased from $10,000 Friday to a complete loss of $170,000 on Saturday.

No one was home Saturday, as Griffey had declared the house uninhabitable the previous night.

Ferguson said the residents were attempting to sell the house, and a good majority of possessions upstairs were removed before the initial fire. The homeowners remained at the house until about 8:30 p.m. Friday to remove their belongings.

Ferguson said Saturday’s fire would probably remain under investigation for about a month because he “has to collect some additional data just to clarify the information I collected.”

“I’m trying to figure out what occurred. Did it rekindle or was there some other forces involved that made it catch on fire?” he said.

Ferguson added that there does not seem to be a criminal element and “everything appears to be accidental.” If that remains the case, he said it was most likely caused by a rekindling of the previous day’s flames.

“However, I still have to do my due diligence and look at everything,” he said.

Ferguson did not want to disclose where Saturday’s fire is believed to have ignited “until I fully determine that it doesn’t have a criminal nature.” He added that he has seen fires rekindle “numerous times” over his 18 years working with the Fire Department. It is “very rare,” however that a rekindled fire causes this much damage.

He said windy conditions most likely played a critical role in spreading the fire if it was rekindled.

Resident Donald Wells said he thought the Friday fire was caused when his wife put a cigarette into a flower pot on the back deck that was near the wall. He said the flames then apparently leaped up to the house, but he and a neighbor were able to control a good portion of the fire with a garden hose.

Ferguson confirmed that all signs appear to point to an improperly discarded cigarette. He added that cigarettes could smolder in a flower pot for hours before they ignite flames.

He said the hot, windy, and dry weather offers prime conditions for such fires.

“This season is notorious for cigarette fires,” he said, adding that six county residents have died in such fires in the last decade.

Ferguson encouraged smokers to use proper ashtrays, which should be kept away from combustible materials. He added that cigarette butts should be doused in water in before throwing them in the trash.