Controlled burns damage cars and homes in Colonial Heights, city says not to blame


COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. (WRIC) – A controlled burn did not go as planned in Colonial Heights and residents must now clean up the mess after claiming their property was unexpectedly damaged in the blaze.

It has now been four days since the fire and the faint smell of smoke when the wind blows still fills the air. Residents of the Briarcliffe subdivision told 8News they were not only upset because their property had been damaged, but even more upset they had not been told about the burning that was taking place.

James Fariaz said he panicked when he saw the fire and thought his neighbor’s house was on fire. He says he woke up his family and was ready to open a door and help.

“I thought my house was on fire,” Fariaz said. “It was glowing red ash, falling on us all night.”

Ring Doorbell video captured the fire behind the housing estate late Friday night. Large flames engulfed the land behind the neighborhood.

“We looked and you could see big flames like 20 feet above the trees,” said resident Roy Chini Jr.

Neighbors tell 8News that the high flames sent hot embers and falling ash to their cars and homes, leaving damage behind. Fariaz says he woke up to smoke in his house and couldn’t stop coughing. He says the fumes were so strong he was forced to stay in a hotel over the weekend.

“The interior of our house smells of a campfire and we have big damage to the clear coat of the paint on our car,” Fariaz explained.

He showed 8News photos of his car stained with burnt ash. He says he took him to the car wash three times and he’s still riddled with damage. This damage is a similar scene throughout the neighborhood, including Chini’s house. During a tour of her home, Chini showed 8News burnt plants, burn holes in patio furniture and soot-dusted umbrellas. Another neighbor showed 8News a bowl of ash he collected from the family pool.

“I was just upset enough,” exclaimed Chini.

The longtime resident says he is also upset that he and his neighbors weren’t made aware of the existence of a controlled burn. Chini’s wife became moved and shared it like a horrific awakening with large flames shooting through the air that were dangerously close.

“We should have been warned,” Chini said. “If it was in the mail or if it was an e-mail or maybe just on the answering machine or something like that.” They should have told us.

According to the city of Colonial Heights, weather conditions, including cloud cover and high humidity, were causing the “negative impacts.”

The cit said he was not responsible for the damage and neither was the city fire department. 8News has visited the department, however, we have been referred to the city for further questions. 8News also called City Manager Douglas Smith, who said he had no comments other than what was posted online.

In an online bulletin, the city said it issued a burning permit to Townsend & Son Bulldozing, a contracting company that hosted the event. They also cite HL Henshaw Construction Inc. as the owner of the property where the burn occurred and ask residents to call and address their concerns. The bulletin also advises affected residents to contact their home insurance to discuss possible damage coverage.

Some residents said they called the two companies multiple times, but received no response and wanted to be held to account.

“I’m not here to get anyone in trouble, but someone has to be held responsible for what happened. It was obviously out of control, ”said Fariaz.

After an investigation, the town’s fire department revoked Townsend & Son Bulldozing’s burning permit. 8News posed several questions to Townsend & Son Bulldozing and HL Henshaw Construction Inc., but no one answered the phone.

Neighbors share that their fight is not over and they plan to voice their concerns to city council members at their October meeting. Some hire a legal representative to sue for damages and lack transparency.

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