A man in his twenties was found dead yesterday in the basement of a burning rowhouse near the Georgetown University campus where students had held a party the night before, fire officials said.
The two-alarm fire, which authorities said was caused by faulty electrical wiring leading from the furnace, severely damaged the interior of the two-story white brick building at 3318 Prospect St. NW, where neighbors said five or six Georgetown students lived.
Firefighters responding to the blaze found the victim's body just after 9 a.m.
The man was identified as Daniel Rigby in an e-mail circulated to students by a Georgetown vice president for student affairs. The e-mail said Rigby was in the Class of 2005 at the business school.
Authorities said it appeared that he did not live in the Prospect Street building.
D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department spokesman Alan Etter said the blaze caused about $35,000 in damage. Etter said firefighters, using about 40 pieces of equipment, extinguished it in about 45 minutes. They found the basement filled with acrid smoke, Etter said. He said it was unclear why the victim was unable to get out when others in the building did. The cause of death was not determined yesterday, and an autopsy will be conducted today, Etter said.
Etter said firefighters found evidence that "a big party" had been held at the rowhouse the night before. "There were several kegs of beer. Cups littered all over the place: out on the street, on the sidewalk, inside the building," he said.
It was the second electrical fire in the past month in that block. The first, which severely damaged a gray rowhouse several doors down from the one that burned yesterday, also started in the basement. Etter said it was caused by a malfunctioning switchbox.
Victoria Rixey, president of the Citizens Association of Georgetown, said residents were alarmed by the similar causes of the fires. "It just seems odd that it would happen on the same block," she said.
Ross Dunlap, who lives on the block, said the proximity of the two fires "is weird, and it scares me as a homeowner."
A GU student who lived last year in the building that burned yesterday said he and his housemates had noticed charring in the wood around an exposed electrical wire in the ceiling of the basement. "We would look up, and there would just be black around parts of the wire," said the student, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified.
The owner of the century-old building could not be located yesterday.
Rixey said residents of the neighborhood have been concerned about the safety of Georgetown rowhouses and have been working with the university since spring to get the city to conduct more inspections of the houses. She said concerns range from too many students living in some buildings to the potential fire hazard of students sleeping in basements.
"Clearly, it's a huge fire issue," said John Lever, a neighborhood activist who lives nearby and was at the scene of yesterday's fire.
Yesterday afternoon, the basement of the burned building appeared to be destroyed, and its windows were covered with plastic. Broken glass littered the sidewalk. Bricks on the exterior of the first floor were charred, but there was little visible evidence of damage to the second floor.
Etter said fire officials determined that the building had no code violations. It did have smoke alarms, he said, but it is unclear whether they went off.
Neighbors said they were awakened about 9 a.m. by firetrucks. "There was smoke pouring out of the house and fire coming from the basement," Dunlap said.
Although Etter cited evidence of a large party the night before, two students who attended the party said it was quiet and consisted of about 20 people watching the baseball playoffs. The students, who said they left about midnight, spoke on the condition that they not be identified.
A small group of Georgetown students, some hugging and crying, gathered outside the yellow police tape yesterday and listened to brief remarks from the Rev. Ridgeway Addison, a chaplain in residence for the university. "They are really upset," Addison said.
Staff writers Martin Weil and Allan Lengel contributed to this report.