Arson investigators still probing fatal blaze
D.C. Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin said Friday "it's very possible" that someone put furniture in the hallway of an apartment building to keep people from escaping a fire there earlier this week.
Fire investigators believe that the Wednesday morning blaze originated in the fifth-floor hallway. where a mattress and other furniture were found. The fire killed one man who tried to jump to saftely, and injured 10 others, including a 2-year-old who remains in guarded condition at a specialty hospital for young burn victims.
Rubin said fire investigators are still trying to eliminate all possible accidental causes before ruling the blaze an arson. Most likely, though, "this will be some sort of set fire," the chief said. The mattress, he said, might have helped fuel the fire.
Speaking at the firehouse of Engine Company 24's Rescue Squad 2, which sent a number of responders to the blaze, Rubin asked for patience as investigators finish conducting interviews and collecting evidence. He said officials had several "what we would call suspects or persons of interest," but no one is in custody.
Of the 10 people taken to hospitals as a result of the fire, three had been released, three remained in critical condition, and the 2-year old girl, who suffered burns on 30 percent of her body, remained in guarded condition at Shriners Hospital for Children in Boston, said Pete Piringer, the spokesman for D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services. He was not certain of the conditions of the others.
Rubin praised the efforts of the 125 firefighters and emergency responders from around the District, and specifically those of Rescue Squad 2, who he said, faced adverse conditions to save dozens of people.
Firefighters were called to the blaze at the 63-unit Sarbin Towers apartments, in the 3100 block of 16th Street, at 3:45 a.m. They escorted dozens of people out of the eight-story building, carrying some through smoke-filled hallways or down ladders.
Heat, smoke, language barriers, and pure panic made the rescue efforts challenging, according to the firefighters on scene. Firefighter Brian Phillips described having to forcefully enter an apartment on the fifth floor to find a man who had removed a cable from his television, tied it to his refrigerator door and was "sitting on his window ledge, grasping it with both hands."
"That was his last ditch effort," Phillips said. "to go out the window."
Fire Capt. Timothy Jeffery, said he knew things were bad when he saw "bloody footprints coming across the lobby area" as he entered the building. People were gathered at the windows of nearly every apartment he entered, "just trying to get fresh air," he said.
"At some point, when [the window is] their only egress, who knows what's going to happen," he said.
Three people tried to climb down a tree to safety from their fifth-floor apartments, firefighters said. They were able to stop one from doing it. One of the others made it. But one fell and died.
-- Nathan Rott
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