Peggy Cooper Cafritz, owner of the Northwest Washington mansion that was gutted by fire last year, is suing the District of Columbia. The prominent arts patron, who founded the Duke Elllington School of the Arts, filed the $30 million lawsuit against the city’s water department claiming that inadequate fire hydrants and low water pressure prevented the fire department from containing the horrific blaze that destroyed her home in the summer of 2009.
The house, which was located at Loughboro and Chain Bridge roads, contained a prized $15 million art collection that was also lost in the late night blaze.
Mayor Adrian Fenty acknowledged in the immediate hours after the fire that not only was there a lack of cooperation between the water and fire departments, but also water availability and the reliability of the infrastructure surrounding the lavishly appointed domain were issues that warranted concern.
“The low flow standards dictate that any fire hydrant under 500 gallons per minute is a low flow,” Fenty said of the 75-year-old corroded pipes that led to the Cafritz house. “There are a number of those in this area – and the two closest to Cafritz’s home are under 500.”
Fenty added that had there been a cross street in the home’s vicinity, firefighters would have been able to “turn down and go right over to University Terrace where there are other fire hydrants.”
All that is left now of the estate is a vacant lot that has been offered for sale.
Cafritz, who filed the lawsuit last week, had held numerous fundraisers and other social gatherings at her home. She said in an interview posted on NBCWashington.com that the house had come to serve as something of a community center for people hoping for a glimpse inside.
Cafritz said the fire started as a small one, but because of faulty water flow, it was allowed to rage out of control. Earlier reports state that it took firefighters nearly two hours to find a steady flow of water to ward off the blaze.
“This was a small fire that unnecessarily engulfed my house in flames because of the lack of water,” Cafritz said, adding her suit, in part, was intended to help others. “Everyone in every house or apartment building in this city should be confident that if a fire starts, it can be put out.”