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Family seeks answers about fire
SPOTSYLVANIA COUPLE REBUILDS BUT QUESTIONS REMAIN ABOUT BLAZE THAT KILLED 25 PETS
BY JEFF BRANSCOME
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Marye Byrd lost almost all of her belongings and pets after a fire destroyed her Spotsylvania County home in January.
But somehow, her two digital cameras survived—and with them, about 600 pictures of her pets.
She has photos of Little Byrd, a beagle, romping through the snow. Of Reecee, a shepherd–chow mix, on a picnic table in the backyard. Of cats cuddling with dogs on the couch.
“Those photos represent almost my entire life in that house,” Byrd said.
She and her husband, Dennis “Sarge” Byrd, had 20 cats and seven dogs—all rescues—before the fire on Jan. 28. All but two cats perished.
The family is rebuilding their Lake Wilderness home on Dubin Drive and hope it’s ready in July. For now, they’re staying in a rental in King George County owned by Marye’s father. In fact, her father waived his no-pet policy after a friend of Byrd’s offered her a Siberian Husky named Balto.
“To help us through the grieving process, to get me out of bed in the morning, to get me out of the house during the day, I really felt we needed a dog,” Byrd said. “Balto came to us at the very moment that we needed him the most.”
She’s supposed to be looking for new furniture but has been more concerned with finding friends for Balto and her young cat Ginger.
“We’re partial to any animal that really just needs a home,” she said.
Byrd teaches obedience classes at a local PetSmart, and is finishing up her latest six-week program today. She plans to take some time off, saying it’s emotional being in a store with so many animals—some of whom resemble her late pets.
LOOKING FOR ANSWERS
Construction on the family’s new 1,800-square-foot single-story home is almost finished, but Byrd still has questions about the fire, which occurred on a Saturday shortly after 11 a.m.
In March, a nearby home on Plantation Drive in Lake Wilderness was destroyed by a fire. Just like Byrd’s fire, it happened during the day on a Saturday when nobody was home except for pets.
“It’s not just me,” she said. “It’s a lot of people in the neighborhood who really find all of this to be incredibly suspect.”
Byrd hung a banner in her front yard that offers a $10,000 reward “for anyone with information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for my house fire.”
The sign lists a number for her and for the Spotsylvania Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Management. Nobody has called her with information, she said.
“What I’m trying to do is, obviously, find a little bit of closure for myself—try to let people know that I really, truly do feel that there could have been some other element,” she said. “It may not have been an accident. Do I know that for sure? No, I honestly don’t.”
Marye thought the investigation into her fire was closed and that the incident had been ruled accidental.
But Spotsylvania Deputy Fire Marshal Phil Sullivan said the cause of both fires is unknown. The investigations haven’t technically been closed, but he described the fires as cold cases.
He said there is no indication either was intentional.
“Nothing [has] shown at all that it was arson in any way, shape or form,” Sullivan said. He noted that residents of the homes had been smoking on their front porches the day of the fires. It’s impossible to know whether cigarettes caused the fires because the homes were so severely damaged, he said.
Byrd said her husband’s last cigarette was about five hours before the fire.
“That’s really reaching,” she said of that explanation.
Fire officials determined another nearby house fire in April on Orange Plank Road was caused by smoking materials left in a can on the back deck. And a house fire in May on Burlingame Lane off Spotswood Furnace Road was caused by an exhaust fan that short-circuited, Sullivan said.
‘TIME MARCHES ON’
Byrd recently walked into a room in her rebuilt home that was similar—in location and size—to an office in her previous house.
She recalled how some of her cats would play under a futon in the office. She’d stop what she was doing and take pictures of them.
“We all spent a lot of time in this room,” she said.
The new home is similar to the old one, which Byrd and her husband purchased in 2003, but has a larger bedroom and master bathroom.
It will also have a screened back porch—perfect for cats who want some fresh air.
“We’ll definitely have more animals,” Byrd said. “My husband and I just have such a love for the un-loved.”
The living room will have a memorial for her late pets. The hundreds of pictures she took of them will be stored on an electronic frame she plans to put on a mantel.
“Whether you want it to or not, time marches on,” Byrd said. “And so we’ve got to try to pick up the pieces and move along with it.”
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402