As the fire began on a second-floor balcony and raced up to the roof, volunteer firefighter Carrie Wilson pounded on door after door, ensuring that the occupants of the 12 units evacuated the Tanglewood apartment building at 10843 Gambril Drive.
“Personally, I think we all owe our lives to her,” said Wendy Kaczmar, whose second-floor apartment was next to where the fire is thought to have started. “She got us all out. None of our smoke detectors went off, so we would have slept right through it.”
No one was killed in the blaze, which began around 2:40 a.m., as infant and elderly alike escaped with their lives. However, two of the 43 residents lost their homes and a pair of firefighters were injured, said Battalion Chief Hadden Culp, a spokesman for Prince William County Fire and Rescue.
A member of fire and rescue fell from a second-floor balcony when a railing collapsed. Medic crews transported him by helicopter to a local hospital and hours later he was “up and walking around,” Culp said.
A second firefighter got his foot caught in one of the aerial ladders; he also is expected to be fine, Culp said, who added that both firefighters were expected to have been released Tuesday afternoon.
A pair of victims also suffered minor injuries, but neither was hospitalized.
About 80 firefighters helped battle the blaze.
Wilson said Tuesday afternoon that “anybody would have done what I did.”
“It was truly just starting when I got there, but then the wind picked up,” said Wilson, a volunteer at Stonewall Jackson Volunteer Fire Department who also works for the American Red Cross. “I’m just so happy that no one was hurt.”
While the fire marshal’s office is still investigating the cause of the blaze, which caused an estimated $500,000 in damage to the building and its contents, Culp said that preliminary indications are that the complex was not intentionally torched.
“We just got out with what was on our backs at the time,” Kaczmar said while watching cleanup crews sift through the soot at her charred apartment building Tuesday morning.
Terri Delaney, whose grandmother was displaced by the fire, said her husband, Eric, smelled something burning earlier in the evening.
“He thought it smelled like rubber burning,” Delaney said. “He checked the hallways and all around the building, but couldn’t find anything.”
Jackie Musiol, who lived in apartment No. 14, said that she also awoke to people banging on her door.
“I just got up and ran out,” Musiol said. “I know it was really stupid, but I ran back in the building because at the time it didn’t really seem that bad. When I ran out the second time, the whole thing was burning.”
The detectors may have remained silent because there might have been no smoke inside some of the apartments, Culp said. The fire spread on the outside of the apartment and did most of the damage in the attic and on the roof.
“If you look in the third-floor apartments, you’ll see the walls are still white,” said Culp.
“But what [Wilson] did was a great thing,” he continued. “If she alerted them, that’s pretty important. We’re absolutely fortunate that no one was really seriously hurt.”
Within four hours of the fire, the American Red Cross and the Tanglewood Apartments management had relocated all of those displaced — every tenant at 10843 Gambril — either elsewhere in the complex or in a hotel, Culp said.