- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2008

Community groups and D.C. government agencies yesterday were rallying to provide food, shelter and clothing to roughly 200 displaced tenants of 85 apartments damaged or destroyed Thursday in a five-alarm blaze on Mount Pleasant Street in Northwest.

Fire officials, community members and former residents asking about their possessions swarmed around the charred four-story apartment building. A crane was parked in front of nearby Meridian Hill Baptist Church, already starting to rebuild its damaged parts, and a block away, volunteers carried plastic bags filled with items for donation into a community center.

“The community at large has really come out to help us out,” said Ginny Herebia, a social worker at Neighbor’s Consejo center, noting that more than 30 volunteers worked late Thursday night and early yesterday morning to sort bags of clothing and other donations.

By noon yesterday, donations of clothing, canned food and children’s toys flooded the rooms of the Neighbor’s Consejo center, and poured out the door, down the steps and along the sidewalk leading up to the center.

Darrell Darnell, director of the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said that about 80 residents were provided rooms at a local hotel. He said the American Red Cross will fund three days of housing, and D.C. government agencies will take over the next phase of housing.

Firefighters yesterday set up a table on Mount Pleasant Street and took requests from residents to retrieve their belongings. The cause of the fire has not been determined.

Battalion Chief Kenneth Crosswhite said the burned-out building was too unstable for residents to go inside themselves, so firefighters compiled lists of personal belongings and went in to retrieve the property. Chief Crosswhite said about 40 people had asked for help by noon.

Stephanie Scheiver said firefighters were able to retain some files, pictures and travel memorabilia from her fourth-floor apartment, but the 25-year-old interior designer was most upset at the task of setting up another apartment.

Millicent Williams, executive director of Serve D.C., said the Columbia Heights Recreation Center near the apartments has served as a processing location for apartment residents and as a donation drop-off location.

“People have been very generous,” Ms. Williams said, adding that Serve D.C. is accepting donations of blankets, clothing, baby care items and toiletries. The agency will later set up a more aggressive donations drive, calling for household items like furniture and kitchen supplies.

She said 63 apartments scattered across the D.C. area have been identified as long-term housing for the residents, and the D.C. Department of Human Services will work with the Housing and Community Development Department to find new residences for the displaced tenants.

Belen Cadena, 25, was in Colorado when the flames devoured her apartment. She returned to the District yesterday morning to find out whether any possessions were recovered and was still waiting for news at 11 a.m. She and her mother, who came from Connecticut to help, were unsure where they would stay last night or where Miss Cadena would stay in the coming weeks.

Ms. Scheiver said she was staying with a friend who helped her gather her things from the site.

“I still like this neighborhood and hope to come back eventually,” she said, adding that she’ll stay in a basement apartment until she finds a more permanent place.

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