Saturday, September 13, 2008
A piece of Jefferson County's history was lost in an early morning blaze Friday.
Seven fire companies from Jefferson County, along with six from nearby Loudoun County, Va., and Washington County, Md., were called to a fire at xxxxxxxx shortly after 3 a.m. that day, officials said.
By the time the companies arrived, the three-story home was fully involved and the roof was engulfed in flames, said Earl Cogle, chief of Blue Ridge Fire Co. No injuries were reported.
Cogle said firefighters used more than 60,000 gallons of water to extinguish the flames, which reached so high that they scorched tree branches behind the home.
The first responders to arrive on the scene had come from Charles Town, and they reported to Cogle that the riverside blaze was visible as they drove out of town, he said.
"It looked like a sunset," Cogle said.
The blaze had been put out by shortly after noon, although firefighters remained on the scene and expected to be there for at least another hour working to quell hot spots that persisted inside the structure's remains. The smell of smoke hung in the air as they walked through the shell that was left behind.
The property's owner, Steve Peterson, stood nearby.
"It's a real loss," he said. "I'm just thankful that no one was injured."
Peterson said he was at his girlfriend's home in Kearneysville when the fire broke out. He got word of the fire later that morning, when someone entered the special education class he was teaching at Herndon High School in Virginia and told him that they were there to take over the rest of his classes for the day.
"He had no clue," his girlfriend, Maureen Harrigan, said with tears in her eyes.
Peterson had spent nearly 25 years working to restore the historic property, which was surveyed by George Washington. The house was built between 1750 and 1756, the couple said, adding that it once served as a ferry house.
The structure stood along the edge of the Shenandoah River, and was near one of several crossing points along the waterway. Peterson said pulleys had been used to move items from one side of the river to the other.
"It was one of the last ferry houses," Harrigan said.
But despite the couple's losses - which included all of Peterson's family photos and the rest of his home's contents - the two tried to remain positive and focus on the things that they still had, like each other.
Just the day before, Harrigan said, Peterson had been talking about the fact that the future is uncertain, and that no one knows what lies ahead for them. He told her that things don't matter as much as the people you have in your life.
"You never know why things happen," Harrigan said as she reflected on these words in the wake of the fire. "All we have is time and each other."
"It just makes you appreciate the life that you have," he said, adding that he was grateful to all of those who had helped put out the fire.