Tuesday’s fire in Tom’s Brook has been ruled an arson, and a reward of up to $5,000 is being offered for information leading to a conviction.
“This was a brutal crime,” said David Ferguson, Shenandoah County Fire Marshal. “We are committed to closing this.”
He called it “brutal” because the fire occurred while members of the Ferris family were asleep at the home they rent at 3457 N. Main St. It appeared the fire was set on the front porch, which is below the bedrooms, he said. It then spread to the first and second floors.
Ferguson said Jason Ferris, his 16-year-old daughter and his 18-year-old son were asleep.
“It was one smoke detector that alerted,” Ferguson said. “If that smoke detector had not gone off, we would be investigating something different.”
Fire moves quickly, he said, adding that it takes just a matter of seconds before it is too late.
The mother, Marilyn Ferris, was working the third shift at IAC in Strasburg when the fire started.
“My daughter called me, and I was out of there,” Marilyn Ferris said, adding that when she arrived, she grabbed her kids and hugged them.
“They were scared. They are doing better today (Wednesday). We hope to have them back at school tomorrow (Thursday),” she said.
The home is uninhabitable at the moment, and the Ferris family is staying with family. She said she is not sure what the landlord of the home will do.
The family believes they have lost most everything.
“First thing, I will need a place to live. Eventually, I will need furniture,” Marilyn Ferris said.
On Wednesday, investigators clarified who was in the home at the time of the fire – three people. Jason Ferris called 911 at 2:20 a.m. Tuesday after his daughter was alerted by a smoke detector and woke up him and her brother.
A pit bull-boxer mix dog in the home also made it outside safely, Marilyn Ferris said.
Important evidence was collected on and off-site, Ferguson said.
A search warrant obtained for the property allowed investigators to collect several debris samples, part of a tire, siding, electrical and plastic components, as well as fingerprints, Ferguson said.
Fingerprints were discovered in a location that makes them crucial evidence, and other crucial evidence was collected as well, he said.
There were three K-9 dogs at the scene; two tracking K-9s and an accelerant K-9.
“They played a role in evidence collection,” Ferguson said.
Another possible piece of evidence being investigated is graffiti drawn on a detached garage at the back of the property that read “(expletive) the conferacy.”
The family displayed an American flag and a Confederate flag at the home, Ferguson said, adding that the family told investigators the graffiti was not there when they went to bed that night.
Firefighters from five departments and three rescue squads responded to the scene on Tuesday. Firefighters had the fire under control at 3:57 a.m., and a few remained at the scene until 6:29 a.m.
Ferguson said that anyone with information about the fire is asked to call the Shenandoah County Fire Marshal’s office at 540-459-6177.
“It is important anyone with evidence calls us,” Ferguson said.
Shenandoah Valley Coalition for Christ is accepting donations for the family at On Second Thought in Woodstock. Donations can be left at On Second Thought under the Shenandoah Valley Coalition for Christ account.