HERNDON, Va. — Investigators are blaming an electric charging cord for a fire in Herndon that sent victims jumping out of third-floor windows, injuring nine people, and leaving nearly a dozen families homeless.
One mom and her kids climbed down bedsheets to escape the flames.
These are all working-class, immigrant families who had very little to start with. And now, just before Christmas, fire has left them with almost nothing.
"I was happy that my family is ok," said Christopher Lopez whose brother and sisters barely survived.
As the smoke was poured into their apartment on the third floor.
"They got a bunch of bedsheets and they made them into ropes. And they climbed down the bedsheets," said Christopher.
A dispatcher sent firefighters rushing to the scene Thursday night.
"We've got three kids. Kids that were jumping from the windows," he called out on the radio.
The fire broke out in the apartment on the second floor.
Without working smoke detectors, the flames left Antonio Urbino's two children with no choice but to leap from their third-floor window. Urbino says William, 17, and Miguel, 20, are badly burned but doctors say they should survive.
"Please God, help me!" he said, breaking down in tears outside the apartment complex Friday.
Marta Villeda says the fire destroyed everything. Her neighbor was only able to save a pet fish.
"We're alive. Poor, but alive," Villeda said, crying.
Noe Alvarez's niece, his wife, and three children, 9, 7, and 14 months, all were treated and released from the hospital after escaping down those bedsheets.
"She saved our kids. So she's the best mom in the world," he said.
Aid workers now rushing to try and help the families, even bringing in therapy dogs to help deal with the terror.
But with the holidays approaching and so much lost, it takes a brave soul to focus on better days ahead. Christopher says the best Christmas present in the world is just to have his family alive.
A total of 11 apartments are now uninhabitable, and 44 people homeless, according to the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.
The Herndon Police Department is taking up a collection in its lobby on Herndon Parkway: Gift cards, coats, diapers, shampoo -- and maybe some Christmas presents for these folks who have lost so much.