Fire Engulfs Apartment Complex for Seniors Near DC Navy Yard

"We're still fighting the fire," D.C.'s fire chief said about eight hours after the blaze began

What to Know

  • A major fire raged for hours at an apartment complex for seniors just blocks from the Washington Navy Yard.
  • A number of residents were rescued via ladder. Others were pushed out in wheelchairs. U.S. Marines ran to the scene to help.
  • All residents are accounted for, D.C. fire officials believe.

Update: Fire officials are investigating whether fire alarms in the building worked properly. Go here for an update


An apartment complex for seniors near the Washington Navy Yard caught fire Wednesday afternoon and burned for more than eight hours, forcing dozens of seniors out of their homes. 

Ten seniors were taken to hospitals for non-life-threatening injuries after the heavy fire broke out at the Arthur Capper Senior Apartments, in the 900 block of 5th Street SE, about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. Residents were rushed to safety, some in wheelchairs. 

Everyone who was inside the building is believed to have gotten out, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a news conference late Wednesday. Bowser said building management called the tenants and each person was accounted for.

Firefighters were set to do another search of the building Thursday.

Flames and a huge plume of black smoke could be seen from afar, and heavy smoke blanketed the neighborhood. Three hours after flames were spotted, the fire still was raging. Dramatic video shows the roof of the building collapse.

About 100 U.S. Marines ran toward the building and carried seniors out of their apartments after spotting the smoke, D.C. Fire Chief Gregory Dean said. Marines and others could be seen rushing toward the four-story building pushing stretchers and wheelchairs. 

"We all went in there to carry people out," Capt. Trey Gregory said live on News4. The Marines hauled out some residents by carrying them over their shoulders, he said. 

The Washington Navy Yard is located two blocks to the south. 

D.C. firefighters rescued several people using ladders. Ten seniors were taken to hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries. 

One woman helped her grandmother, who uses a wheelchair, get out of the building. They passed through hallways engulfed in smoke.

"I couldn't breathe, she couldn't breathe and we couldn't see anything," the woman said, nearly in tears.

Louis Watts used a walker to get his father out of the building.

"Someone knocked on the door, 'Get out! Fire! Fire! Fire!' Watts said.

His father was in bed at the time. He got dressed quickly, and they were able to get out. 

"No sprinklers went off. No nothing went off," Watts said, echoing what a number of residents said about a lack of both sprinklers and smoke alarms.

Resident Linda Gray was leaving to go to Bible study when she heard banging on apartment doors.

"I heard all this noise, and they said get out," she said.

D.C. firefighters arrived shortly before 3:30 p.m. More than 100 firefighters were on the scene as of 4 p.m. Firefighters from Prince George's County, Maryland, also responded. 

By about 8 p.m., fire officials said they had confined the fire to the building. Firefighters were still fighting the flames at 11:30 p.m. They advised neighbors to close their windows and stay inside to avoid the smoke.

Nearby Van Ness Elementary School was set to be closed Thursday because of the poor air quality. 

Dean said at the late-night news conference that the fire marshal's office would investigate whether the apartment building's alarm system worked. 

"Fire alarm systems have battery backups. There's a lot of things that go along. We do not have the answer for that at this time. It's too early for us," the fire chief said.

Dean said the building was last inspected a year ago.

Crews will work to determine the cause of the fire. It is believed to have started on the roof, the assistant fire chief said. 

Several roads in the area were closed ahead of the evening rush hour. At least one exit of Southeast/Southwest Freeway (I-695) also was closed. 

The affordable apartment building was completed in 2007 and has 162 units, the D.C. Housing Authority's website says. The apartments were built in the former location of the Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg public housing complex, which the city demolished in 2007. That complex included more than 700 households. 

D.C. Council member Charles Allen, who represents the area, said displaced residents could find immediate shelter at the Capper Community Center at 1000 5th St. SE.

"Given how vulnerable this population is, the city is going to be working all night to make sure everyone has a safe place to stay," Allen said in a statement.

Christian Paz contributed reporting. 

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