Occupants escape without alarm in Belmont fire
An early morning fire in Belmont began with a "booming explosion" in the basement, according to Charlottesville Fire Department Battalion Chief Peter Carpenter, the first firefighter on the scene.
By the time he and his crew arrived just before 6am, smoke was pouring out the front door, and the house's four occupants, who'd been alerted by the boom, had evacuated and were gathered– unharmed– in front of the house. The smoke detector, an ionization model on the second floor of the house, never sounded, and Carpenter says investigators were still trying to determine if the battery was dead or if the detector just didn't sense the smoke.
Carpenter says fire investigators believe the furnace was the source of the fire, but as firefighters first worked to extinguish the blaze they realized the situation had become more dire: the fire had escaped the basement.
"It got into an open pipe chase and was traveling upwards through the structure," says Carpenter, pointing to a cast iron vent pipe that runs from the basement to the attic. By the time firefighters reached the second floor, the fire had escaped the narrow attic eaves and the upstairs bedrooms were involved.
At 9am, the house's shellshocked occupants–- one male and three females–- huddled in apartment immediately adjacent to the house. Sitting together in the small kitchen, they confirmed firefighters' account of the fire, but declined to reveal their names or to comment further.