Seventeen people are homeless after fire gutted their Sterling house Sunday evening. The large, extended family includes seven young children, including a newborn baby.
Thankfully, no body was hurt, not even the family's dog, who who was in the spot where the fire started.
Loudoun County fire officials say a heat lamp ignited combustible materials. According to the homeowner, Waqar Shah, that combustible material was bedding in a doghouse for his brother's pitbull Ghaz.
When the fire started, all 17 people were out of house running errands or out for dinner. Shah got a call from his next door neighbor.
"Your house is one fire," the neighbor told him.
"By the time we got here, the fire brigade and ambulances were all the way at the stop sign," said Shah.
Shah lives here with extended family, his parents, and two brothers and their families. Ten adults and seven young children, including his brother's three-week old baby. Every possession they owned, except for what they were wearing, is gone.
They built the house in 2006 and have been working on it since. Shah said they finally got everything just how they wanted it, then on Sunday, "everything was gone in 10 to 15 minutes."
Shah is not dwelling on what he and the family has lost. Instead he is focusing on what they have, their lives. That includes his brother's dog, Ghaz.
Shah's brother had placed a heat lamp there to keep him warm. When the fire started, Ghaz escaped.
"My brother tried to find it, he couldn't find it. He asked the firemen, they said, 'we didn't see any dog.' By the time he went back to his car, the dog was, without the leash, standing by his car," said Shah.
Ghaz knew where to find his master and came out of wherever he was hiding.
"We can take the positive out of this, that we're all safe. And that's the best thing that can happen," he said.
Waqar Shah says he is amazed at the community support and help from the neighbors, from Forest Grove Elementary School and from their mosque The Adams Center.
There is a donation drive but the family says since they don't have a lot of room in the hotels, clothes are difficult to store. If people want to help, financial donations and gift cards are most appreciated.
Sterling resident Nina Thai is collecting donations at her Allstate office at 46396 Benedict Drive #210 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.