- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) A massive fire ravaged a District of Columbia apartment building overnight, forcing the evacuation of several neighboring buildings and damaging a church.

No residents were injured as flames engulfed the four-story building in the city’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, but about 200 people were forced from their homes, authorities said.

Fire department spokesman Alan Etter said the fire broke out about midnight, and responding crews initially focused on rescuing residents. He said at least half the building was destroyed.

Some people climbed down fire ladders, while firefighters carried others out of the building, authorities said. Many people were loaded onto buses to stay warm.

Abigail Escobar, a resident in the building, said she quickly fled with her two young children after being awakened by a neighbor who knocked on the door.

“I only grabbed the children, who had no shoes, no anything, and we ran down the stairs,” Escobar said.

Hundreds of firefighters from D.C., Maryland and Virginia responded to the five-alarm blaze, which continued to smolder hours later, Etter said. At least one firefighter suffered minor injuries.

“We’re blessed that no civilians were injured,” Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said at a news conference.

Flames that erupted from the roof of the Winston apartments spread to the Meridian Hill Baptist Church, which suffered damage to its roof, Etter said. Several streets, including heavily traveled 16th Street in northwest Washington, were expected to remain closed for much of the morning, snarling traffic in the area. The cause of the fire remained under investigation. The apartment building where the fire started has been plagued with numerous electrical, plumbing and infestation problems and has been fined by the city, D.C. Council member Jim Graham told WTOP radio.

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