RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Authorities are getting a chance to see the aftermath of a 3-alarm fire in South Richmond. The building is partially collapsed. Nearly 100 elderly and disabled people are now homeless.
Fire investigators are sifting through the rubble, working to find out what sparked the flames. They are also trying to account for all of the people who lived in the building.
At this point, they know none of the 96 people who were evacuated were seriously hurt.
Around 8:30 Tuesday night, firefighters were called to the Chesterfield Square Apartments for what they and residents hoped was a routine fire call -- it was not.
"We usually have fire alarms but they are usually just minor things, but this time a fireman pounded on the door, and said you need to evacuate -- the buildings on fire," said resident James Gilmer.
And it wasn't just James' door they pounded on. Once firefighters realized the magnitude of this blaze -- they went door to door as the race was on to save lives.
"Our number one priority is always life safety, so whether or not it's one person or 10 people, we will make sure we get those people out of the building as safe as possible," said Lt. Sean Jones, spokeman for the Richmond Fire Department.
At this fire scene, that was harder than usual because most all of the residents who live here are elderly or disabled.
"We had people that were here that were non-ambulatory or needed extra assistance whether they be in wheelchairs or on walkers and canes, so we had to deploy all our resources to help those individuals first," Jones said.
Once the residents were safe, firefighters worked hard to put out the difficult blaze, which took more than three hours. By morning's light, crews remained on scene dealing with the aftermath.
The Red Cross is helping fire victims. Budget issues have the agency trying to decide whether to keep a shelter open or send people to hotels. Forty eight people stayed at the shelter at Bon Air United Methodist Church last night.
Last month, the Richmond area Red Cross assisted nine families for fire-related emergencies. With this fire, they are helping nearly 100 people all at one time.
Now no matter what the cause of this blaze winds up being, fire officials are hoping it sends an important fire safety message to everyone who's watching.
As we close in on winter, we are of course seeing heaters and Christmas trees in homes so it's an important time of year to be extra cautious.