Another blow: Robinson house burns to ground

Just when it seemed things couldn't get any worse for Lisa Robinson, the Earlysville mom who drew an eight-year sentence for serving alcohol to minors, her house goes up in flames, forcing her to flee wearing only a bath towel.

Jim Howe was getting ready for work on the morning of October 18 when, "I heard some commotion going on outside," he says. Howe lives next door– but not within sight of the Robinson house at 4160 Bleak House Road.

As Howe stepped out on his porch, he heard glass exploding, smoke alarms beeping, and voices yelling. Robinson's 18-year-old son, Ryan, "came running through the woods screaming, 'Call the fire department,' " Howe says. He dialed 911 at 9:47am.

"Lisa came running through the woods with a towel on," says Howe. "She'd been in the tub. She asked for clothes."

Howe followed Robinson back to the house where flames were already shooting through downstairs windows.

"Lisa and Ryan were trying to move the cars, but couldn't because the keys were in the house," says Howe. "I think they lost everything."

Firefighters from six stations responded to the fire, according to Albemarle County spokeswoman Lee Catlin. At press time, she says she expected the investigation into the cause of the fire to take several days.

"The original statement of the occupants was the origin of the fire was on the first floor," says Catlin. The investigation is hampered by the fact that the roof collapsed onto the first floor.

Howe says that when Robinson came downstairs, the couch, where Ryan had been sleeping, was in flames. "He said it got hot," Howe reports.

"Glass was popping like crazy," he continues. "It was amazing how quickly it burned." He estimates that it took at least 10 minutes for the first fire truck to arrive. "It emptied its tank. That barely put a dent in it."

The fire marshal calls the house– which was for sale– a total loss.

The 3,700-square-foot neo-colonial on four acres had been on the market about four months, says listing agent Cynthia Viejo at Montague Miller realtors. "We'd just reduced it to $510,000," says Viejo, "and it was getting some good activity."

Robinson and her son were taken to UVA Medical Center for evaluation and treatment of smoke inhalation and minor cuts, and were released with no serious injuries, says Catlin.

"She was very shaken up and pretty hysterical," says Howe, "which is pretty normal under the circumstances."

Robinson has been in the local spotlight since August 2002, when she and her former husband, George Robinson, were arrested for hosting an underage party and serving alcohol at the now-ruined house.

Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge Dwight Johnson sent shockwaves through the community in February 2003 when he called the Robinsons "a danger to the community," set bail at $80,000, and sentenced them to eight years in jail.

The couple appealed, and on September 3, 2003, Albemarle Circuit Court Judge Paul Peatross sentenced them to 27 months in jail, although the commonwealth's attorney had recommended only a 90-day sentence. A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals of Virginia recently agreed to hear the case.

The appeals court docket also shows a domestic relations case between Lisa and George Robinson that was settled October 15.

The fire is the latest devastating chapter in Lisa Robinson's life. According to Howe, she told him, "I've been through some tough stuff, but this is the worst."

Lisa Robinson's house was listed for sale at $510,000, but an October 18 fire makes it a total loss.