Residents of a Capitol Heights apartment project knocked down two padlocked exit doors to escape their burning building yesterday after fire broke out in the bedroom of a sixth-floor apartment.
D.C. Deputy Fire Chief Dennis Logan said heavy metal locks on the east and west exits of the Capitol View Plaza No. 2 apartments, at 5929 East Capitol St. SE, were "clearly in violation of fire codes." Logan added that the fire alarm in the 13-story, federally subsidized housing project was not working at the time of the blaze.
"We have checked this building at least one time that I remember and have asked them to remove the locks, Logan said. "I have ordered an investigation into the reasons why the fire alarm was malfunctioning."
Officials of Capitol View Development, the private company that manages the building, could not be reached yesterday for comment.
There was no immediate dollar estimate of the damage caused by the blaze, which gutted one sixth-floor apartment and caused smoke damage from the sixth to the 13th floors of the building, fire officials said.
One resident, Maurice Flowers, 35, was treated for an ankle injury at Greater Southeast Community Hospital and released.
Shirley Washington, a 28-year-old computer operator for the Interstate Commerce Commission and mother of three, said she was taking a bath and getting ready for church when her son Demar, 7, ran into the bathroom and told her their apartment was on fire.
"I was nude," said Washington. "I ran into the children's bedroom and there was fire everywhere . . . Demar said a man let himself in with a key and threw some matches into their toy box. I tried to put it out with some water, but there was too much fire.
"I called security, but they didn't answer . . . I just wrapped myself in this bedspread and ran out of the apartment with the babies. There was so much smoke. Lord have mercy, everything's gone, everything's gone."
John Davis, 30, who lives on the 11th floor, said he was in his apartment when "I heard some glass shatter. I looked downstairs and saw all this fire and smoke coming out of one of the apartments. I called the fire department and then ran into the hall and pulled the fire alarm, but it didn't work, so I just starting knocking on doors to get the people out."
When he got downstairs to the building's west exit, Davis said, "there were 200 or 300 people in the tiny alcove in front of the door. There was all this smoke and they were crying, screaming and pushing against each other. I pushed to the front and found the door locked . . .
"I started ramming my shoulder against the door with a couple of other guys. We finally managed to pry it off the hinges and get the people out."
Davis said the east exit also was locked, and that only the front exit was open.
"We've got a lot of old people and handicapped people who live here -- it's scary," said Kali Dempsey, president of the building's tenant council. "They want to raise our rent $44, but we've been fighting the increase because this place is a fire hazard. We've asked them to unlock the doors," Dempsey said.
"I went down to the D.C. Housing office a few weeks ago and an inspector there told me this building hasn't been inspected since 1976," Dempsey added. "We told the management something like this would happen."