A two-alarm fire at a Southwest apartment complex Thursday night that sent two residents and a firefighter to the hospital has similarities to 18 arson fires in the District and Prince George’s County, D.C. fire officials say.
The latest fire occurred in a fifth-floor hallway of the eight-floor Marina View Towers in the 1100 block of Sixth Street SW about 8:30 p.m.
Firefighters stretched ladders to rescue three persons trapped on the fifth floor. Two were taken to local hospitals for smoke inhalation, and a firefighter sustained a back injury in a fall. None of the injuries was serious.
Battalion Chief Richard Fleming, head of the Arson Investigation Unit, said a liquid accelerant was detected in the hallway where the fire started. D.C. fire officials and Prince George’s County fire officials have said a liquid accelerant was present in each of the other 18 fires in the two jurisdictions.
Chief Fleming said there “appears to be a connection” between the 18 fires in the District and Prince George’s County based on similar circumstances, but he would not yet link Thursday’s fire to the others.
“The similarity is obvious,” he said. “We have collected evidence we want to have analyzed before we make any concrete determination.”
In each case, the fires were set outside of occupied homes or in the hallways of occupied apartment buildings overnight. The first fire occurred March 25 in the 2000 block of Jasper Road SE. There have been 17 fires set in the two jurisdictions since May 15. A June 5 fire in the 4900 block of Evarts Street NE killed 86-year-old Lou Edna Jones.
Chan Aye, 40, lives on the fifth floor of the Marina View Towers and was sleeping when the fire was started. He said he thought he was still sleeping when he saw the hazy smoke in his apartment.
Mr. Aye said he got up and checked his kitchen and saw the smoke coming under his door.
“When I opened my door, all kinds of smoke hit me,” he said. “I was blinded.” He said he almost passed out but that two firefighters entered from his window and rescued him.
Jerry Smith, who lives on the eighth floor, said a neighbor notified him of the fire. He said the hallway on his floor was filled with thick, black, acrid smoke. He soaked a towel for his head and descended the stairs.
“It was the longest eight flights I ever had to go down,” Mr. Smith said. He said no alarms sounded and no emergency lights lit the smoky stairwell. Mr. Smith said he had a sore throat yesterday morning from inhaling smoke.
He said the building is pretty well traveled around 8:30 p.m. There is a secure door, but he said people often hold the door open for the next person. Mr. Smith said he was not aware of any video surveillance cameras in the building.
Chief Fleming said investigators are trying to determine whether cameras recorded anyone entering or leaving the building at the time of the fire.
He estimated that his office investigates about 60 arson fires per month.
Chief Fleming said that to link the rash of fires he would like to have evidence, such as a similar matchbox left behind or a fingerprint.
“I think the thing we would feel confident with is if we discovered one piece of evidence that was common to both jurisdictions,” he said.