Francis Kerrick, 33, looked out the window of his apartment in Glenarden yesterday and saw smoke billowing from the three-story building across the way and four people jumping to safety.
Rushing outside, Kerrick saw one woman trapped in her third-floor apartment. "There were four or five of us on the ground," he said. "We told her to grab hold of the ledge and push away from the building and jump and we would break her fall."
The woman, who was not identified but appeared to be in her 40s, followed their instructions and made the jump without apparent injury. "She seemed okay," said Kerrick, who said that it happened so fast that he "didn't have time to be scared."
Three others, including one fireman, suffered minor injuries, and about 60 people were displaced by the fire that started at 8:30 a.m. yesterday at the Glenarden Apartments, 3016 Brightseat Rd. in Prince George's County, fire officials said. About 50 firefighters brought the two-alarm blaze under control in about 30 minutes, they said.
Investigators said the fire, which caused an estimated $130,000 in damage, was started by children playing with matches.
"We can't say anything else, because they [the children] are minors and because we're still investigating," said Tony DiStefano, a spokesman for the Prince George's County Fire Department.
He said the fire started in a four-bedroom apartment on the first floor of the building, which contained 11 units of three- and four-bedroom apartments and provided housing for 11 families, each with five or six people.
"When the occupants of the first-floor apartment left, the door was ajar and the fire spread into the hall," DiStefano said.
Firefighters used ladders to rescue eight people from the second and third floors of the building, he said. One firefighter suffered a leg injury while removing an occupant from a third-floor apartment.
Two residents were injured. One was treated for lacerations. The other, who sustained a back injury when he jumped from the third floor, was taken to Prince George's General Hospital, where he was being treated last night.
The damaged building is part of the 592-unit Glenarden Apartments complex near Landover. Complex manager Jack Rittenhouse said the federally subsidized units rent for $370 to $480 a month but tenants pay amounts based on their income. The complex is owned by the National Investment Development Corp. and managed by Housing Resources Management, Rittenhouse said.
Eight of the 11 families displaced by the fire were relocated to other units in the complex while repairs are made to their building. Rittenhouse said the unit where the fire started has to be renovated -- "the unit on fire had to have the floor torn out" -- and the others have smoke damage. Repairs probably will take about two weeks, he said.
The other three families are receiving housing assistance from the Prince George's Office of Emergency Preparedness and the Red Cross until space can be found in the Glenarden complex.