Councilmember Charles Allen said that authorities are not sure how the fire started at Arthur Capper Senior Building (900 Fifth St. SE), the 162-unit affordable seniors-only housing complex in Navy Yard.
DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services (DC FEMS) responded to reports of fire shortly after 3:20 p.m. Initially a two-alarm fire, the blaze was later upgraded to four alarms. By 5:00 p.m., officials told reporters that they believed that everyone in the building was safe and accounted for. Seniors displaced by the blaze were being moved to Greenleaf Recreation Center (201 N St SW). Capitol Hill steak-and-fries restaurant Medium Rare has donated 150 meals to ensure the seniors are fed, said Allen’s office.
“When neighbors saw there was smoke, they ran into the building and started alerting senior residents by knocking on doors. When our office got word, our staff started calling to alert residents inside the building,” Allen said.
“There’s no doubt the alert and fast action of those neighbors and our DC Fire and EMS saved lives today. Initial count has every resident account for – which is a testament to the fast responses of our community.”
Thick, Noxious Smoke
An email written to a neighborhood list serv and forwarded to the Hill Rag said that the blaze looked like a terrible loss of the building. “When I arrived I saw a fireman carrying a man out of a fourth floor window,” the author wrote.
The author advised that as of Wednesday afternoon, residents living on the 400 block of I Street, Fourth or Fifth Streets between I and M Streets SE should expect very limited vehicular access to their properties.
He said there was ‘very thick, noxious smoke’ throughout the neighborhood.
“If your windows are open, you should close them tight,” he added.
He said that the access of DC FEMS ladder trucks to the north side of the building was delayed by CSX construction. “It took about 15 minutes for CSX crew present to mobilize from on-looker status to move fencing to help the fire fighters already moving fencing to get trucks into position,” he reported.
Alarms Not Heard
Asked for comment, DC FEMS Spokesperson Vito Maggiolo said that when he arrived at a point fairly early in the fire fight, DC FEMS already had numerous units positioned around the building.”
“Reports regarding the alarm system will be investigated by the Fire Marshal,” he added.
A 2011 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) report noted that it is common that fires originating in attics or rooftop soften go unnoticed until smoke or flames are visible from the outside. Firefighters interviewed for the report indicated that attics rarely have smoke alarms. “Sometimes, however, enough smoke will reach the smoke alarms on the lower levels, setting them off,” the report notes.
“Because they can take longer to detect, attic fires are very dangerous for firefighters and residents alike. The delayed detection allows the fire to become larger in size, ultimately causing more damage,” the report states.
A cause of the fire has not yet been identified. DC FEMS tweeted during the blaze that there was heavy fire at the building, a “top floor and attic occupied 5 story apartment building.”
The Hill Rag has reached out to CSX for comment.
Allen said that the city will work all night to make sure all of the displaced residents have a safe place to stay. He said that immediate shelter is available in the community room at the Capper Community Center (1000 Fifth SE).
Allen emphasized that operations on the site are far from complete and asked residents to avoid the area. “Everyone is asked to please remain out of the area otherwise to allow emergency services to work.”