A man who called 911 to report a deadly fire at a homeless encampment in Northwest D.C. said people were yelling to firefighters that there was a man inside the burning tent, and that it was ultimately another encampment resident who pulled out the victim.
The victim was found dead on New Jersey Avenue and O Street NW after the tent caught fire late Monday, fire officials said. The victim's name has not been released.
Fire crews were dispatched to the area at about 10:40 p.m. They said they saw the tent on fire, were able to extinguish the blaze and then found the victim.
Clarence Thomas (no relation to the Supreme Court justice of the same name) said he called 911 to report the fire, which happened at the far end of the small park where he and about 35 others live.
He said a fellow encampment resident, whose name he does not know, started screaming to firefighters, "Man, don't you see? ... Somebody's in there!"
Thomas then watched as the good Samaritan entered the blazing tent and pulled a man out.
"So the boy reached in there and pulled him out ... whole body, bam. Now he comes running with the hose," Thomas said.
The charred remains of the tent could be seen at the encampment, which is built up against the wall of a D.C. fire station, Engine Company 6, on New Jersey Avenue.
An investigation into the cause of the fire and how the person died is underway.
A response to a request from the News4 I-Team revealed that District firefighters have been called to the location for reports of fires — most of them cooking fires — seven times since April 2020.
The fatal blaze happened at a time when many people living in homeless encampments say they’re distrustful of District’s plans for them.
The New Jersey Avenue encampment is one of several that the D.C. government is focusing on as part of a pilot program to get people out of tents and into permanent housing. The tent encampments would be removed, but rather than send those living there to shelters, they would go straight from their tents into apartments. In addition to immediate housing, the pilot program would also offer intensified support services.
Thomas said many who live in the encampment are confused by the process and distrustful of the result.
The fire occurred hours after a man was hurt as crews working to remove a homeless encampment in the NoMa area used machinery to move a tent with the man still inside. The man was taken to a hospital for observation.
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