Woman injured as fire guts local dry cleaners

Posted: March 10, 2014

The Winchester Star

Firefighters stand outside Festival Cleaners after extinguishing a blaze that destroyed the business as well as damaging others in a shopping center on Fairfax Pike in Stephens City on Saturday. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)
A firefighter exits the burned-out Festival Cleaners on Saturday. Garments removed from the business can be seen piled at left.
Burned and melted spools of thread sit on shelves at the Festival Cleaners in Stephens City. The fire, which started around 1:30 p.m. Saturday, destroyed the business and its contents. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

STEPHENS CITY — A woman suffered minor injuries when a dry cleaning business caught fire Saturday afternoon, gutting the building.

Young Lee’s hands were slightly burned and her hair was singed, her husband Jai Lee said while standing outside of their business, Festival Cleaners at 378 Fairfax Pike, after the fire had been extinguished.

Other businesses in the strip mall — Food Lion, Liberty Tax, Pizza Hut, China House and Goodwill — were evacuated due to spreading smoke.

Jai Lee, who wasn’t in the dry cleaners when the fire broke out, said he didn’t know how it started.

“She little burned,” he said of his wife. “She’s OK. She called me and said, ‘Come here.’”

Lee said his wife went home to rest after being injured.

“So, maybe later we’re going to the hospital,” he said. “She’s very nervous right now.”

Metal roofing over the sidewalk in front of Festival Cleaners and Liberty Tax was pulled back, and burned debris — mostly clothes, but also a laundry basket and sewing machine — was piled in front of the cleaners.

Firefighters were called to the business about 1:40 p.m., according to Stephens City Fire Chief Greg Locke. He was one of the first to arrive at the scene.

“There was a sheriff’s deputy here, and he was actually bringing the woman out that was working at the time,” Locke said. “When I got here, pretty much all the smoke and fire was contained to the original structure, but it was spreading quickly. We had smoke that extended as far down as the Goodwill.

“We had some smoke in the Food Lion, but due to the way that the wind and the pressure was, most everything was going westward.”

The blaze itself was contained to the cleaners.

“The firefighters did a great job,” Locke said.

He said he could see that Young Lee’s hair had been singed “a little bit.”

“She was in the building while the fire was actually going on,” Locke said. “The sheriff’s deputy had her actually come out.”

He said the fire was extinguished within 10 minutes.

“When the first engine got here, they actually had fire coming out the front door,” Frederick County Deputy Fire Chief Larry Oliver said.

Oliver said the smoke traveled in the space above the drop ceiling to the other tenants in the strip mall.

“From that point, [we] just had a lot of work to try to knock the fire down and do overhaul,” Oliver said.

According to Oliver, there was smoke damage to Liberty Tax and Pizza Hut, as well as China House, which is separated from Pizza Hut by two vacant stores.

“These type buildings, strip malls, they have a history of fire getting into the attic space and traveling,” said Oliver, explaining why all of the businesses were evacuated.

The two restaurants will remain closed until they are inspected by the health department, Locke said, although Food Lion was allowed to reopen.

Liberty Tax suffered some water damage, and firefighters pulled part of the ceiling down in the front of the business, according to Oliver.

A hole was cut in Festival Cleaners’ ceiling for ventilation, Locke said.

“The structure itself is intact,” he said. “There’s no compromise to the main beams or anything. They’re going to have a lot of renovations to do before they’re going to be able to get back in there.”

Oliver said the cause of the fire is being investigated by the county fire marshal’s office.

In addition to Stephens City, fire crews responded from Middletown, Greenwood, Millwood Station, Shawnee and Boyce.

— Contact Sally Voth at svoth@winchesterstar.com