Southeast D.C. apartment building that caught fire has units with no working heat, tenants say

WASHIGNTON, D.C. - Hours after a fire in their apartment complex, tenants from Cascade Park met with a number of city department leaders on Thursday night.

8D02 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, Olivia Henderson, says she scheduled the meeting about two weeks ago after seeing a huge pile of trash in the complex.

When she went to address it, she heard about a slew of issues she says she was not aware of, including a number of tenants with no heat.

"Knowing that there's babies and seniors on these properties without heat, I think we are really not doing the job we said we was going to do for ward 8 residents," she says.

She wishes the meeting could have been held just a day sooner.

D.C. Fire and EMS say they were called to a fire in the complex on the 4000 block of 6th street Southeast around 2:43 a.m., battling freezing temperatures outside and hoarding conditions inside the apartment with the fire.

They rescued a man inside and he was taken to the hospital with critical injuries.

Officials say they determined that the fire originated at the stove of an apartment and was ruled accidental.

Tenants tell DCW50 the man inside was likely using the stove for heat, which many of them do.

A man who lives above the unit that caught fire, Rufus Houser, says he didn't hear any smoke alarms going off.

"I just immediately grabbed my jacket, started banging on all the doors waking people up, you know, because a lot of them were sleeping."

A team with the Fire Marshal's Office attended the community meeting at the Mary Merrick Virginia Center in the Southeast neighborhood on Thursday night. They said they had an official inspecting the complex on Thursday and plan to continue on Friday.

An official told DCW50 they did find some violations in their initial inspection.

"Until the commissioner called me about these issues the other day, I had no idea about the space heater situation and people using their stoves," said Battalion Fire Chief Tony Falwell at the meeting.

Representatives from the Attorney General's Office and Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs also attended the meeting.

A DCRA spokesman said they only had one recent complaint in their database.

"We had no knowledge of the magnitude of the problem," he said, adding that he would be back at the apartment complex on Friday as well.

The meeting got heated at one point, with Houser expressing frustration that no one has heard their complaints.

"If I died last night in the fire, I wouldn't be able to talk to nobody," he said.

Henderson argued that not enough people were speaking up, but as soon as she noticed a problem, she organized the meeting.

"Someone will be held accountable to make sure that these residents are living in safe, healthy, livable communities, especially for the amount of money that they're paying," she says.