WASHINGTON — Investigators will examine why fire alarms did not sound as a huge fire broke out in a four-story apartment complex for senior citizens Wednesday afternoon near the Washington Navy Yard.
Although smoke detectors worked in individual apartment units, the main alarm system did not sound throughout the building, even as people manually tried to pull alarms to trigger it, D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Gregory Dean said.
“The alarms did not go off,” Dean said Thursday. “No one was hearing the horns, so we need to find out exactly where that malfunction was.”
After fire crews spent 12 hours pumping thousands of gallons of water into the Arthur Capper Senior Public Housing complex, the building was too unstable for investigators to go inside Thursday morning.
Fire crews will likely be able to enter the building Friday morning at the earliest, according to Dean.
As black smoke poured into the neighborhood Wednesday, dramatic rescues took place at the 162-unit building.
Firefighters used ladders and wheelchairs to pull residents out safely.
About 100 U.S. Marines rushed over to help from the Marine Barracks just down the street.
“But for those really fast efforts, I’m not sure if everybody would have survived,” said Councilman Charles Allen. “We are incredibly grateful for the Marines and also for several of our neighbors who went in and started banging on doors.”
There were no major injuries and all residents were accounted for, Mayor Muriel Bowser said.
Bowser said the District was working to help dozens of people who were displaced by the fire.
“We’re caring for our residents,” she said. “We’ll also work with the building owner and the management company to see if they have vacant units so that these residents can be accommodated.”
Although the cause is unknown, investigators believe the fire started somewhere at the very top of the building. Once they get inside, they will learn more by digging through the charred debris.
“They’ve got to get in there and dig this apart,” said Dean. “This is a pretty big site.”