2 killed in Richmond apartment fire, smoking materials blamed

Investigators said smoking materials sparked an apartment complex fire Monday evening that killed two people and injured six others, including two firefighters.

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“Today the state fire marshal will be in along with our investigators,” said Richmond Fire Chief Jerry Purcell. “We’re looking for cause and origins of the fire.”

They’ll also be making sure that Interfaith Apartments is up to code.

When crews arrived shortly after 5 p.m., there was heavy smoke that “completely obscured” the fifth and sixth floors, which were evacuated.

Purcell said that from the initial call he knew the fire would be serious.

“I was at home,” he said. “I self-dispatched because the initial call was that we already had no visibility on the fifth and sixth floors, which is a very serious indicator of danger for the residents.”

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“We could see flames coming from the windows,” said Christine Ramsey, who was in town to visit family. “I just hoped everyone was out.”

One person was pronounced dead at the scene. A second victim was taken to Reid Health. Both victims died from smoke inhalation, Purcell said.

Neither of their names has been released.

“He was a really nice guy,” Stephanie Carden said of one victim. “It’s really hard to see the window knowing he may have suffered … I hope not. I really hope he didn’t suffer.”

Credit: Contributed by David Carpenter

Credit: Contributed by David Carpenter

Six other people were injured, including a paramedic and EMS for Richmond Fire.

Both were released from the hospital last night and one is back on duty today, said Purcell.

Firefighters worked to get the nearly 120 residents to safety, but it was challenge.

“There was thick, black smoke and residents were self-evacuating, which meant our firefighters were literally running into people in the hallway,” Purcell said.

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While it’s a normal reaction for people to run from a burning building, Purcell said it isn’t always the best idea.

“The best situation there would’ve been to leave the doors closed and to protect in place until we’re ready to evacuate,” he said. “It’s so hard for people to stay in that apartment when they see all that activity, but to protect in place is the initial thing we’d like to see in the situation until we control the evacuation and we have more control of the situation.”

The fire prompted the hospital to implement its “Code Green” mass casualty plan to make sure extra staff is notified if needed in the emergency department. The code was cleared at about 6:45 p.m. when all patients had been received and were being treated.

The fire, which was contained to the fifth floor, displaced 31 residents on the fifth and sixth floors. The Red Cross helped six people find shelter; the others reportedly were able to find other people to stay with.

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Residents on the other floors are able to stay in their apartments, according to Purcell.

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