A fire gutted a McLean mansion Saturday morning, sending a plume of black smoke over the Northern Virginia suburb that was seen from parts of the District and Maryland.
Fairfax County fire officials said that six people escaped and firefighters rescued two dogs from the stately tan-brick home in the 800 block of Turkey Run Road. No one was injured.
The home is owned by the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, according to property records and two men who lived there.
Almost three hours after arriving at the blaze, firefighters on ladder trucks were still spraying down what had become a brick shell, as steam and smoke wafted out the top. The five-bedroom, six-bathroom house, assessed in 2016 at $2.7 million, appeared destroyed.
Two men who lived in the home said they thought the fire started in the kitchen.
Paul Ruwe, a deputy chief with Fairfax County Fire and Rescue, said investigators had not determined a cause. They couldn’t enter the remains of the home until the fire was fully extinguished, he said, and the free-standing brick walls and two chimneys also posed a hazard.
“Without walls and a roof and a floor,” Ruwe said, “it could become a stability problem with a danger of collapse.”
Ruwe said firetrucks arrived at the neighborhood off Georgetown Pike about eight minutes after receiving a 911 call at 7:58 a.m. A man in the home and a neighbor who did not want to be named said it seemed to take at least 30 minutes for firefighters to spray any water on the house. The closest hydrant, which is the only one in the neighborhood, is up a hill and around a bend, a five-minute walk away.
“In the beginning, it was a small fire,” said Mohammed Almansouri, 42, who added that he was staying in the home on a visit from the United Arab Emirates.
In fact, he said, the fire seemed so contained that he and others who had gotten out had time to move several cars to the other side of the driveway to leave room for firetrucks to get in.
Although the firefighters arrived quickly, he said, it took time for them to hook up the hoses to the far-off hydrant.
“They were all waiting for a water supply,” Almansouri said. “It was a small fire in the beginning, but after time, the fire went up, up, up” until flames were shooting out the roof.
Almansouri said five men were living in the home, in addition to three employees — a chef, a driver and a cleaning person — who also worked and lived there. He said one of the men works for the embassy but is not the ambassador.
Ruwe, the deputy fire chief, said firefighters don’t log into the computer system the time they begin spraying water. However, he said, a 30-minute delay due to a distant hydrant “is way outside the realm of possibility.”
He said it’s not unusual for some areas of the county to have “not as robust a hydrant system.” As firefighters usually do when hydrants are far away, he said, one engine headed straight to the house while others set up a relay operation of trucks and hoses stretching from the hydrant to the house. Such a system, which utilizes pumps on the trucks, keeps up the water volume and maintains pressure for the hoses, he said.
While the relay system was being set up, he said, the first firefighters who arrived at the house sprayed water from an engine onto outside propane tanks to prevent them from exploding. They also were able to stave off flames to allow a crew to get into the garage to save the two dogs, whom Almansouri identified as a Rottweiler named Rihanna and a Great Dane puppy called Scooby.
A far-off hydrant “adds a complexity to the event, but it doesn’t prevent us from doing our job,” Ruwe said.
Other residents on the street said they have shared with county officials their concerns about a lack of hydrants in a neighborhood full of multimillion-dollar homes. Many of the homes are on wells because water pipes haven’t been extended to them.
“Our firefighters are the most professional in the world,” said neighbor Becky Kilbourne, “but they can’t do anything without water.”