Six children and three adults were seriously injured yesterday as a fire rapidly spread through a Southeast Washington apartment, forcing a woman to toss her 2-month-old child more than 30 feet to a teen-ager standing below.
The mother and two other adults jumped from a fourth-story window of their apartment at the Valley Green public housing project.Firefighters rescued five other children inside the apartment at 1004 Varney St. SE.
"I heard something that sounded like an explosion," said William Coleman, 14. "I ran around the building. There was this man at the window. He just jumped to the ground. Then a lady jumped. There was another lady holding a baby standing at the window. I told her to drop the baby to me. She did and I caught him. He was a 2-month-old boy. Then the lady jumped. She fell flat on her back and passed out."
Dozens of neighbors gathered outside the apartment building and many threw pillows on the ground to try to break the falls of the three adults. The three adults landed in a grassy area strewn with glass and debris behind the four-story brick building.
Officials at Greater Southeast Community Hospital said none of the people who jumped broke any bones. But three of the children were listed in critical condition at local hospitals.
"I came outside and all I could see was this woman hanging out the window," said a nurse who lives in the neighborhood. "Flames were shooting out the window. She was holding on to the ledge.Everybody kept telling her to jump. I thought they were holding a mattress or something to catch her. But they weren't."
Neighbors said one of the women who jumped was hysterical. "She kept screaming, 'My babies are in there, my babies are in there,'" one neighbor said.
Dorothy Chinn, who lives in another fourth-floor apartment in the same building, said she was awakened by the fire. "I heard noise outside the window and looked outside. A friend hollered, 'You better hurry up and get out. Your building is on fire.'"
Chinn said she quickly awakened her two other children and they headed for the front door. "When I opened the door, I could see nothing but smoke. I could hear the children [in the burning apartment] hollering. I opened the apartment door [where the children were] and the fire was at the door. I would have gone in but I couldn't. It was too much fire. They were hollering and screaming and I couldn't do a thing."
Chinn said she rushed her children outside. Another teen-ager put on a gas mask and tried to enter the apartment to rescue the children, but the flames stopped him, she said.
The children were rescued by the firefighters, who arrived within minutes after the fire was reported at 8:45 a.m. All nine victims, suffering from various injuries, such as smoke inhalation, burns, cuts and bruises, were rushed a block away to nearby Greater Southeast Hospital.
Hospital officials identified the victims as Theodore Allen, 22; his wife, Kim, 21; and their children, Carlos, 3, Paulette, 2, Keith, 2 months, the infant who was tossed to Coleman; and Darlene Murphy 21, and her children, LaShawn Ross, 4, Samuel Ross III, 22 months, and Raymond Ross, 11 months.
All were listed in stable or guarded conditions, except for the two Ross boys and Paulette Allen. Samuel Ross suffered burns and smoke inhalation, while his brother suffered severe smoke inhalation. They were listed in critical condition at Children's Hospital. Paulette Allen was also listed in critical condition at Children's, but her injuries were not disclosed.
Fire officials said the fire started from discarded smoking materials found in a living room couch. The fire caused an estimated $30,000 in damages to the apartment and the families' belongings.
A housing department official said the apartment was rented to Darlene Murphy. The housing department has secured another residence for her family the official said.