FRONT ROYAL — Arthur Ludke was preparing for work Friday morning when he heard noises from the apartment above his that sounded like something “banging around.” He said he had assumed it was the neighbor’s cats until he heard other residents “making a commotion” and yelling “fire” and “smoke.”
“It was quite a rude awakening this morning,” he said.
Barley dressed, Ludke grabbed his wallet and keys and proceeded to exit the 402 Virginia Ave. apartment building.
Warren County Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico said the fire broke out in one of the building’s fourth-floor apartments at about 6:45 a.m. and the flames were under control in about 40 minutes. Although unsure about how many residents live in the building, he said there were no reported injuries.
The fire caused approximately $150,000 in damages, according to a news release from the department.
While there were no injuries to humans, Carlton Watson, who lives adjacent to the apartment in which the fire broke out, said he saw about five or six dead cats being carried out in a “blue tote.” He said his apartment suffered “a lot” of smoke damage but none of his belongings were burned. This was a stark contrast to his neighbor’s apartment, which he said was burned so badly that “I don’t know what they’re going to do.”
Ludke and Watson occupied two of the three residences that were declared unlivable after the fire. Ludke lives below the burned apartment and said his abode suffered substantial damage from water, which “just kept pouring in” through the ceiling.
Cleatus Bell, a Red Cross Disaster Action Team volunteer, said everyone affected by the fire would be able to stay in empty apartments in the same building. He interviewed the victims and photographed damage, which will be used to determine how much funding is needed for basic necessities and “immediate need.” He added that the residents would be provided with an informational booklet that provides details on how to obtain resources for long-term assistance if it is needed.
Maiatico said the fire’s cause is unknown and is the subject of a joint investigation by the Fire Marshal’s Office and the Front Royal Police Department with assistance from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office K-9 division. He said the resident of the apartment in which the flames initiated was being interviewed by police officers in attempts “to try and piece together exactly what occurred.”
Ludke noted that the situation was “kind of weird” because the resident of the apartment where the fire started was slated to be evicted that day, adding that she was not home at the time of the fire. Regarding the eviction, Maiatico said, “right now, that is part of the investigation but we don’t have anything to comment on.”
Upon hearing of the impending eviction and that the resident was being questioned by police, Bell, who is a former Frederick County Sheriff’s deputy, said the situation sounded like an arson investigation.
When asked if the fire was being investigated as a possible arson, Front Royal Police Department Detective David Fogle said over the phone that “the only thing I can say right now is that it’s under investigation.”