MCFRS News Release

Fatal Silver Spring Apartment Fire

Silver Spring man dies after being pulled from burning bedroom

Just before 2 a.m. on Monday, September 8, 2008 units from the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service were alerted to a building fire in the 8000 block of Georgia Avenue, in Silver Spring.

Firefighters found Vien Cao, age 31, unconscious and not breathing in a second floor apartment located at 8075 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring.  This was one of several apartments situated above the Lotus Café - Pho (a Vietnamese restaurant).  He was found on a mattress in a bedroom and removed by firefighters, treated and transported to the MedStar Burn unit at the Washington Hospital Center, in Washington, D.C.  He appeared to have received burns and smoke inhalation and was transported from the scene in respiratory and cardiac arrest.  He succumbed to injuries and was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The cause of the fire appears to be accidental, but is classified as undetermined.  The investigation continues.  The area of origin is the bedroom, specifically the mattress.  Smoking materials, including a cigarette lighter were found nearby. NOTE: the cigarettes found in his apartment were in compliance with Maryland’s new law requiring ‘fire-safe’ (reduced ignition) cigarettes.  Damage was minimal, including about $5,000 damage to the structure and $1,000 to the contents.  The fire was confined to the area of origin.

Although several smoke alarms were located in the area, they were inoperable and were found without the required batteries.

The fire was discovered by another resident who was in a first floor office of the Café and smelled smoke.  He went to investigate and stated that he saw smoke near the hallway light fixture on the second floor.  Another resident was instructed to run to a nearby Fire Station across the street for help. Residents found that smoke was coming from second floor apartment door of the rear bedroom and that the door was hot to the touch.  Fearful of entering the room, other residents went outside and retrieved a ladder from the rear of the building along with several fire extinguishers in an effort to extinguish the fire.  They threw the ladder to the second floor window of the affected bedroom where they could see smoke and fire.  Moments later fire and rescue crews arrived on the scene.

Montgomery County Fire and Explosive Investigators believe the fire may have started on the mattress and or bedding material.  The victim was known to be a heavy smoker.  A lighter was found on the mattress at the point of origin.  Smoking materials were found in the room. The exact cause of the fire is undetermined.

Mr. Cao is Montgomery County’s fifth residential fire fatality of the year.  He is originally from the Baltimore area and was a recent new employee of the Lotus Café and resident of Silver Spring.

Last week, on August 29, seventy-eight (78) year old Marilyn Ehrlich, of Potomac died as the result of injuries she sustained from a fire in her house on Gainsborough Road.  Damage was estimated to be $750,000.  Her son Ethan Ehrlich, age 48, was rescued by firefighters and remains in critical condition.  Three firefighters were injured. Three smoke alarms were found to be inoperable and did not function.  Mrs. Ehrlich was the County’s fourth residential fire fatality.