With no working fire alarms, Springfield fire displaces 50

By Sunlen Miller

Springfield, Va. -- A pre-dawn fire broke out in Springfield Saturday, destroying three apartments, badly damaging twelve other units, and displacing over 50 people who lived on the 7200 block of Commerce Street.

The fire, which broke out around 5 a.m. Saturday, could have been better contained if there had been working fire alarms in the building’s apartments.

But no alarms were working in the building.

"Two of them had their batteries removed and one of them was covered in plastic wrap which prevented all three of them from operating," said Lee Warner, Fairfax Battalion Fire Chief, on the scene of the fire. "So that delayed the occupants being notified of the fire."

After conducting an investigation, the Fairfax Fire department determined that a malfunction in the refrigerator was to blame.

"We heard a big explosion; we were all sleeping," Lillian Bonilla, one of the occupants of the apartment said. "When I woke up and I saw the flames, I was freaking out."

The refrigerator malfunction sparked an enormous fire that quickly spread from one apartment to the next, blowing out windows and spreading up two floors in the complex.

"The flames got on the roof and it was the third floor. You could see the smokes coming out of the apartment," Bonilla said. ”It was really bad.”

Residents ran out through smoke-filled hallways and some broke through windows to escape as the fire locked them in their rooms.

Those residents, left now with un-livable, fire-damaged homes they can't return to, were taken to local schools and community centers today. The American Red Cross will help them with food and shelter until Monday.

"These people are very hard hit. Many of these probably don't have insurance," Warner said surveying furniture, pictures and clothes almost unrecognizable by fire damage strewn outside. "What you're seeing out here is all they had."

The apartment complex had over a half a million dollars in damage.

There were no serious injuries. One man injured himself slightly while jumping out of a window to escape the fire. He has been treated at a local hospital.

"These folks are very lucky that we didn't have any fatalities," Fairfax Battalion Fire Chief Warner said.

For Lillian Bonilla and her young daughter though, there's a different kind of loss and pain: of a bad memory.

"She's saying that she had a bad dream," Bonilla said of her daughter's recollection of the trauma, "She was asking me about her toys. And I said, ‘you're gonna have new toys; don't worry.’"