FRONT ROYAL – Cardboard boxes filled with pictures curling from the smoke and water were all that was recovered from a structure fire down the road from the Warren County social services center Wednesday afternoon.
Patricia Oliff, 61, was at her cousin’s house helping him clean the bathroom when she got a call that her house was on fire.
She said she drove straight over, wanting to see the home she had lived in for 22 years as flames swallowed it up.
Warren County Fire and Rescue Services received multiple calls about a structure fire, Fire Chief Richard Mabie said at the scene. When he first arrived, there was so much smoke, he said, that he wasn’t sure which house was on fire.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but detective Marc Ramey, of the Front Royal Police Department, said on Wednesday the cause is not suspicious.
Mabie said it appeared the fire started in the backyard, possibly on the deck before being sucked down into the basement and climbing the wall. By the time Mabie and other responders arrived, the roof of the house was on fire — sealing its fate as irrecoverable, Mabie said.
A number of neighbors said they heard popping noises, like explosions, before they saw the flames and heard the fire trucks. One propane tank, which Oliff said she and her husband kept outside, was strewn in the strip of grass between the home and its neighbor — which had its plastic exterior panels melted off by the heat coming from the fire.
Mabie said the home was totally destroyed and valued damages between $400,000 and $450,000, depending on the possessions inside. Pointing to the neighbors with the melted panels, he said he thought there was about $20,000 in damages there.
The Warren County Fire and Rescue squad was stretched thin Wednesday as the fire call was followed by a medical emergency and then a motorcycle crash that resulted in a rider flying into a creek and getting flown to Fairfax, Mabie said. While the department usually does OK, when calls stack up, prioritizing calls is hard, he said.
Firefighters from Strasburg, Middletown and Frederick County lightened the load on Wednesday.
Mabie said no one was injured in the fire, though one firefighter did trip on the stairs in front of the home and possibly sprained an ankle.
He noted that investigators will continue to determine the cause of the fire and should have a better idea in about one week.