Man Sounds Fire Alarm at 3 a.m. Apartment Fire, Saving 36
Returning from a quinceanera with his family, Joel Ventura, 31, called 911, and then ran inside burning building and knocked on doors with another Good Samaritan he didn't know.
Editor's Note: The video accompanying this story was taken by Joel Ventura; the audio portion was deleted at his request.
Just after midnight Saturday—about 1 a.m.—Mariela Mira returned home from a party to the apartment she shares with her mother, Sonia, at 7803 Belford Drive off of Richmond Highway in Alexandria.
As she drifted off to sleep, she thought she smelled smoke, but she dismissed it, thinking someone had been barbecuing outside. She fell asleep.
Meanwhile, the Ventura family—Joel Ventura, his mother, his sister and brother-in-law—was making their way home from Manassas, driving back from a quinceneara, a "Sweet 15" for a family member. They stopped at a McDonald's on Route 1 before heading home. "We were hungry," said Joel Ventura, 31.
A few minutes later, as they drove toward their home on Belford Drive in Hybla Valley at about 3 a.m. Sunday, family members in the car thought they saw dark smoke billowing from the roof of apartment units at 7803 Belford Drive.
Ventura, an employee at G&G Aquatics in Lorton, jumped out of the car and ran to get a closer look, he explained in an interview after the fire Sunday afternoon as a work crew cleaned out soot and put a temporary roof on the building.
After quickly calling 911, he and another man, whom he didn't know, ran inside the building. "I pulled a fire alarm...I think everybody was sleeping," he said. "There was a lot of smoke, especially in the upper level. I started knocking and kicking on doors. By the time we got out, about five minutes later, the fire department was here."
In all, 36 people were displaced by the fire, but no one was seriously hurt, according to the company working on clean-up and repair on Sunday.
After firefighters said it was safe, families were allowed to go back in at dawn for a few things before being temporarily housed at local hotels. "We got a few things, some clothing, medication, toiletries," said Mariela Mira, who returned to the scene with her mother on Sunday to find out if they could return for more items.
A representative from Minkoff, the company doing repairs, said he estimated damage at about $600,000 and thought the families would be displaced for at least one month. In most cases, temporary apartment homes are made available for longer stays, he said.
No one on the scene Sunday could say what started the fire, but tenants talking among themselves suspected some sort of electrical problem, said Mariela Mira.