Donna Hahn was nearing the checkout line at the Martin’s Food and Drugstore in Charles Town, West Virginia when she received a distressed call from her husband, Paul, Wednesday afternoon.
“I left my basket right there,” Hahn, 62, said.
Hahn raced back to Brunswick and found her longtime home on West Potomac Street, which she has lived in on and off since she was 13, engulfed in flames.
By the time she got there, the raging three-alarm fire had already spread to the nearest neighboring house on North Virginia Avenue and was in the process of destroying two homes on a street where they date back centuries.
“The house was over 200 years old,” Hahn said, as she and Paul helplessly watched it burn from across North Virginia Avenue. Paul, 68, said it still had the original crossbeams.
Sitting at their feet in a crate was Zoe, the youngest of their four feral cats. They weren’t sure about the fate of the other three.
“Frankly, I was most worried about the animals,” Donna said. “They are my babies.”
Shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday, firefighters from four different counties were called to battle the blaze and spent more than two hours doing so.
Chris Morlan, a Battalion Chief for Frederick County Fire and Rescue, said the fire was more or less out by around 4:15 p.m.
Morlan said no residents were injured, but three firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion, including one who was transported to Frederick Health Hospital for further examination.
The companies that responded were from Frederick, Washington, Loudoun and Jefferson counties. At one point, they stationed themselves on the Md. 17 bridge over the Potomac to pour water down on the roofs on the homes that saw flames shooting out of them.
The area is no stranger to sirens, as Brunswick 19 Volunteer Ambulance and Rescue sits right across the street from the now burnt-out homes.
But the fire was a mid-afternoon sight to be seen, as onlookers and emergency vehicles filled the narrow small-town streets. Cars drove through fog-like smoke on the Md. 17 bridge.
Don Cole lives across N. Virginia Avenue in a home that was built in 1789.
Cole was born without a sense of smell, so he didn’t know anything was wrong until he heard a cascade of sirens blaring down the street.
“I came out to look and the fires had already started,” he said.
No one was clear about what had started the fire. But they were all clear it had started at 127 W. Potomac Street before spreading to the nearby house.
While his wife grocery shopped, Paul Hahn was working upstairs on his computer.
“I heard something hit the floor downstairs,” he said. “I thought the cat had knocked something off the counter. When I went downstairs, my one cat was sitting there looking out the window, and I couldn’t figure out what it was looking at.
“So, I went over and moved stuff around, and I saw smoke coming through the window (going) up. I came out of the porch and both sides of the house were on fire.”
Paul quickly called Donna to promptly interrupt the shopping trip she had set out on for her sister.
“I drove 90 miles per hour,” Donna said of her roughly 15-mile trip home.
Morlan said there were some animals rescued in the fire, but he could not confirm they were the Hahns’ three missing cats.
“I’ve lived here forever,” Donna said as she watched her home burn.