A 71-year-old woman died and four persons were hospitalized after a fire early yesterday at a city-run high rise apartment building for senior citizens.
Fire officials said the two alarm blaze at Judiciary House, 461 H St. NW, was confined to the eighth floor one-bedroom apartment of Nathaline Ford, who has lived in the building since 1988. Ford, who suffered minor burns and smoke inhalation, died at George Washington University Hospital at 3:15 p.m. yesterday as a result of a heart attack, a hospital spokesman said.
Ford, a diabetic whose left leg had been amputated, was rescued from her apartment by a neighbor who was alerted by screams from tenants and by heavy smoke in the eighth floor corridor.
Three tenants, Idalean Jackson, 53, Bessie White, 61, and Irving Cunningham, 52, were treated for minor injuries at local hospitals. Firefighter Larry Buck, 30, from Engine Company No. 2, was taken to the Washington Hospital Center where he was treated for smoke inhalation.
Capt. Hunter P. Heltzel of the D. C. Fire Department said the fire began shortly after 8 a.m. and was extinguished in less than 15 minutes. Heltzel said the cause of the blaze has not been determined. The building is in compliance with fire code regulations, fire officials said yesterday.
Many of the 310 residents of the building left their apartments in pajamas and huddled in the lobby of the 10-story apartment complex, which has been owned by the D. C. Department of Housing and Community Development since 1968.
Elderly tenants said they were awakened by screams of "Fire!" from residents of the building who saw clouds of black smoke throughout the eighth floor hallway and in corridors on the upper floors.
The fire department was called to the scene by a management employe who was alerted to the fire by a building resident.
The smoke and heat were so intense, according to 76-year-old resident, Jessie Gamble, that "I had to put a wet towel on my forehead, go to the balcony and compose myself."
As Gamble waited for help, her neighbor, Irving Cunningham, 52, raced to the burning apartment on the eighth floor and pulled Nathaline Ford into the hallway.
As smoke filled the narrow, eighth floor hallway the resident manager Winfred Taylor, and firefighters began a floor by floor evacuation of residents. Outside, firefighters had extended ladders to upper story windows-to assist in the rescue operation-and yards of hoses snaked through the street. A crowd of employes from the nearby General Services Administration building watched the rescue efforts.
As the ladders began telescoping to the eighth floor, taxi driver Norbert Collins passed by. "I saw that smoke and blaze jumping out of the apartment and I knew it was Nathaline's apartment," said Collins, who is married to Ford's niece, Delores.
Collins said he went home, picked up his wife, Delores, and returned to the apartment complex. In tears, Collins' wife then walked through the crowded lobby, filled with pajama-clad senior citizens, and asked if anyone had seen her aunt.
D. C. Fire Inspector Carmel L. Del Balzo said the Judiciary House Apartment building had been inspected last August by the fire department and was in compliance with the city fire code regulations.
Tenants said that fire drills were conducted regularly at the building. Marie Howard, a management clerk at the complex said a fire drill was scheduled for this week.
The fire at Judiciary House yesterday was the sixth major fire in the city in the last two months and the fourth involving senior citizens. A fire at a group home on Lamont Street NW April 11 resulted in the deaths of 10 elderly residents. CAPTION: Picture 1, Firemen clear debris from the 18th floor of the Judiciary House apartments, following an early-morning blaze. By Gerald Martineau-The Washington Post; Picture 2, Rescue personnel attempt to save the life of Nathaline Ford whose apartment burned early yesterday. Ford died later of a heart attack, according to a George Washington University Hospital spokesman. By Gerald Martineau-The Washington Post