The Shenandoah County fire marshal declared a Woodstock home at 60 Smoot Road a total loss after a fire around 9 p.m. Tuesday. The couple living in the home was alerted to the fire by smoke detectors and was able to safely evacuate with their two dogs.
Barbara Gustavson, 63, and her husband, Steven, 64, immediately fled the house and moved their cars away from the structure, packing into one car to watch their home burn.
“Once we saw the flames coming up the roof, my husband knew that the house was a goner. That there would be nothing, literally, left,” Barbara Gustavson said.
The couple bought the house in October 2012 as a vacation home, but once Barbara Gustavson retired, they moved in permanently in February 2014.
“During the beginning of the fire, I was (thinking), ‘It’s a house, we can rebuild. It’s material. We got out safely,’” she said. “But then as the evening went on and I started thinking about all the memories and all the things that we were losing, in that respect, it became very difficult.
“As the hours go on, my daughters and I keep thinking, ‘Oh yeah, we lost this.’ ‘Oh yeah, my mother’s piano.’ And things like that, that kind of trigger the heart.”
She added that fire officials were attempting to recover photo albums and clothes that had been inside closets Wednesday morning, but she was not sure how much would be salvageable.
Battling the Tuesday night blaze required a lot of personnel and equipment from fire units, and Woodstock Fire Chief Wayne Bowers said “it got a head start on us.” Also, the Shenandoah County Emergency Communications Center was operating under “condition red” Tuesday night, an operational status described as “extremely busy activity.”
“It was a basement fire, and they’re very intense,” Bowers said. “It was pretty scary there for a while.”
Shenandoah County Assistant Fire Marshal Adam Sheets said the cause of the fire was still undetermined Wednesday, but it did originate in the basement and is being ruled as accidental.
He estimated the damage to the home, including the loss of the building and its contents, to be valued at $500,000.
The Gustavsons stayed with family Tuesday night after the fire, but have since been put up in a hotel by their insurance company. Fire Marshal Dave Ferguson confirmed that the home was fully insured.
The Gustavson’s daughter, Kristen Zalenski, 32, said the family was devastated, “but very thankful that our parents and the dogs got out, but obviously very sad and devastated at our loss. It’s hard to stomach.”
Another daughter, Laura Caton, 33, added, “I think it’s still just being digested, mentally and emotionally.”
Woodstock Fire Department ran the fire, and was assisted by units from Woodstock, Edinburg, Toms Brook, Mount Jackson, Middletown, and Shenandoah County.
Barbara Gustavson said people always think this happens to other people. “We never thought it would happen to us.
“They say put all your picture books together in one place, put all your meds together in one place. Well, it was so fast, we didn’t even have time to think about getting the meds and the books and stuff,” she said. “I just want to tell people, get out. Don’t worry about those things. Your life is much more precious.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Laura Caton’s name. The article has since been updated.