VIRGINIA

Lorton family escapes flaming house with neighbor's help

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A cell phone video is hazy, at times blotted out by the sun.

Photo: Capt. Jerome Williams, Fairfax Fire and Rescue

But the images were unmistakable: a large, comfortable Lorton house, being consumed by fire.

Neighbor Jim Gigrich heard shouts from his wife, and ran next door.

"Saw the flames gushing out of the front of the house", he recalls.

Tony Didonato was among those driving by the 9200 block of Forest Greens Drive, around 4:30 Saturday afternoon.

"You could see the flames coming out of the windows, the top floor, the bottom floor.", he says.

Investigators believe the fire was ignited by a lit front porch citronella candle blown over by the wind.

Homeowner Michael Wassif was just driving up, when he saw the flames.

"I almost ran inside the house, almost got myself killed", he says. "The carpet lit up, wicker furniture went then, and then the propane tank next to it blew up."

Just minutes before, Wassif's wife Lulu, their 10-year old daughter Bella, their housekeeper, and Crystal, a pit bull puppy had escaped.

Neighbor Bill Kim ran up after his daughter Faith alerted him about the blaze, which was spreading quickly.

"The fire entered the house inside, and it was totally engulfed", Kim says.

Wassif says his wife, coming home from shopping, saw the flames and helped evacuate the house.

But Bella, seeing the puppy was still inside, ran back in to get her. The mother followed.

Kim ran to the front door, as the house began filling with smoke.

"He opened the door and started screaming, 'Is anyone else in here? Need to get out'", Wassif says.

Mother, daughter, and dog--alerted by Kim, got out okay.

"If I was five minutes later, the fire had already entered, I don't know what would've happened", he says.

Dozens of firefighters put out the flames.

Wassif calls this a $1 million loss.

The place his family has called home more than a decade, is now a gutted shell.

Still, he's counting his blessings:

"In hindsight, no one died, thank the Lord", he says. "It's Easter. We have a lot to be thankful for."

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