UPDATE at 1:56 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 23: The original report has been updated to include links to pages where community members can donate to the Goodwin family. Those links can be found at the bottom of this report.
A house fire in the City of Falls Church last Saturday caused an estimated $300,000 in damages and has left a family displaced just a week before Christmas. Homeowners Tommy and Jessica Goodwin were reportedly out for a walk on Dec. 17 when the fire began at their home on Timber Lane and the couple discovered the blaze upon their return.
Because of the magnitude of the fire and the amount of damage it caused to the structure of the house, the property has been condemned. City of Falls Church Fire Marshal Tom Polera said the cause of the fire is still currently under investigation and there is no timeline for when it will be completed.
No injuries were reported but nextdoor neighbor David McKittrick said one of two family cats was carried off with an oxygen mask on its face and taken to a local animal hospital. The family’s other cat ran away and was missing for four days before being located.
McKittrick says he was getting ready to go out to JV’s Restaurant to see a friend’s band play when he noticed the fire next door. “I’ve never seen anything like that close up before. It was scary,” he said. “By the time I came outside, there was smoke coming out everywhere. There was smoke coming out the back, smoke coming out the front, huge billows out of the roof, chimney and vents.”
Moments later, the windows of the lower portion of the house exploded outward from the heat and pressure and flames climbed up the side of the house. “I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie ‘Backdraft,’ but it kinda had that sense to it,” McKittrick said. “It’s just like really bizarre. It’s surreal seeing a house burn up like that. It’s a really strange thing.” Despite how chaotic the fire had become, McKittrick kept his composure. He filmed and photographed the fire and stood by to offer assistance throughout the night.
He isn’t the only person in the community to reach out and offer help to the Goodwins since fire destroyed their home. The home’s Tyler Gardens/Virginia Forest neighborhood and the community of nearby Thomas Jefferson Elementary School have also come together to provide the family with assistance.
“It’s just sad to see your neighbor [go through this] any time of year, but this time in particular,” McKittrick said. “And they had just purchased that house within the last two years, renovated and moved in. They’re new neighbors. And to spend all that time getting the house just the way you want it and to have it go up like that, it’s pretty staggering.” McKittrick said neighbors in the community have discussed how to assist the Goodwins but haven’t come up with anything specific yet. JV’s Restaurant offered to throw a benefit concert for the family, but details weren’t available as of press time.
This incident is particularly devastating for the TJ community because Jessica Goodwin is a former fifth grade teacher at the Falls Church school. She and Tommy purchased the house in 2014 from Robin Williams, an eight-year employee of TJ who now works in the Fairfax County Public School system.
“I lived in the house for probably 32 years and raised my kids there…all of my kids went to TJ…so when I wanted to sell my house…I looked for someone that would enjoy the neighborhood and the house and the location as much as I had and my family had,” Robin said. “At that point in time I was still working at TJ, Jessica Goodwin was still working at TJ. And I found out that she was looking for a house, we talked about it, they came over, they looked at the house and that was it.”
Robin said it was difficult to see her longtime home go up in flames but she hears the Goodwins want to rebuild. “I understand from seeing Jessica on Sunday that they are going to rebuild. It has been condemned but they are going to rebuild it,” she said. “The brick still looks good, so hopefully the structure is still strong and they can have a brand new home.”
According to Robin’s daughter, Scarlett, an ESOL teacher at TJ, Tommy and Jessica are currently staying with a teacher from the school. “Everyone is on board, working as a community and trying to figure out how we can help to provide what they need,” Scarlett said. “I know that the family is staying with another teacher right now, but I think they are in need of toys and books…clothes, but they are still in the process of trying to figure what they need.”
One of Jessica’s former colleagues at TJ has set up two pages on Sign Up Genius where members of the community can sign up to bring the Goodwins meals and other donations. The meal donations are being accepted through Tuesday, Dec. 27.