Simple act of closing doors saved Williamsburg family who lost home in blaze, officials say

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A fire tore through this home in the Skipwith Farms neighborhood of Williamsburg Wednesday morning, displacing a family of five. (Courtesy Larry Snyder)
A fire overtook this home in the Skipwith Farms neighborhood of Williamsburg last Wednesday morning, displacing a family of five. (Courtesy Larry Snyder)

As bad as it was, it could have been worse.

A house fire last Wednesday tore through a Skipwith Farms home, displacing a family of five and killing two pet dogs.

The fire left the family without clothes, furniture and essential personal items, and upended the lives of three adults and two young children, according to a GoFundMe page.

Despite the devastation left by the blaze, fire officials say the family took at least one crucial fire safety step that allowed them to escape the burning house alive — closing bedroom doors. 

“We know that one of the reasons that the family was able to get out safely was because they had closed their bedroom doors,” Williamsburg Deputy Fire Chief Larry Snyder said.

Snyder said the family’s regular habit of closing their doors at night prevented a “tremendous” amount of heat and smoke from entering their rooms, allowing them to escape through their bedroom window.

“The challenge that we have is, with fire, we become complacent because we’re always around it,” Snyder said. “You think about it, there’s candles on birthday cakes. So we have an interaction with fire that doesn’t present any dangers to us, so it’s easy to become complacent with those types of things.”

In the wake of the Skipwith Farms fire, the fire officials provided several fire safety tips for both cold and warm weather.

Crews battler a fire last summer on Raven Terrace in Williamsburg. (Courtesy Larry Snyder)
Crews battler a fire last summer on Raven Terrace in Williamsburg. (Courtesy Larry Snyder)

“Regardless of what people think, we want to reduce our responses to fire incidents, because that way we know we have a safe community,” Williamsburg Fire Chief William P. Dent said.

Williamsburg firefighters responded to 4,231 calls in 2016, and are always looking to reduce and prevent the number of fires in the City, Snyder added.

As general rules of thumb, fire officials said to have an escape plan and check manufacture dates on smoke alarms to ensure they’re less than 10 years old.

Also avoid plugging too many things into one outlet, which can overload the system and cause an electrical fire, said Capt. Cary Middlebrook, who oversees Community Risk Reduction at the fire department.

In the winter, Middlebrook said to keep heating items at least three feet away from combustibles, such as furniture, paper and loose items. If using a wood-burning fireplace, empty ashes into a metal container to prevent ash fires.

During the summertime, use grills away from combustible materials such as decks and houses, Middlebrook said. In the case of summer storms and power outages, keep generators a safe distance away from the house to prevent carbon monoxide from entering the home.

The officials also pointed residents to online fire safety resources, including CloseYourDoor and a tip sheet from the U.S. Fire Administration. 

“A lot of people feel that something is not going to happen to them, so take the precaution early on,” Middlebrook said. “You may feel like the event is never going to happen, but bad things happen to good people. And we’re trying to get the message out that if something does happen, you should be prepared and know how to act appropriately.”

Williamsburg residents can call the fire department and schedule a home safety survey at any time. The survey will include a check for hazards, as well as other safety hazards such as tripping and falling. To reach the fire department, call 757-220-6222.

“The Williamsburg Fire Department is here as a resource,” Snyder said. “Contact the station directly. We’re going to get to it quickly.”