Investigators rule South Richmond apartment fire accidental

By Rachel DePompa - bio | email
Posted by Phil Riggan – email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Tuesday's fire has been ruled accidental and now, nearly 100 people are still without a permanent home.

It was another long day for residents.  Many came back and spent hours in this line behind me to retrieve items.  And some learned today, they will never be able to go back home.

It might be two days removed from the flames and heat, but residents are no closer to forgetting the trauma.

"Next thing I know, I looked out my apartment door and it was so black, I just took off," said fire victim Mary Gregory.

She came back for the first time, to get her walker. She was told today, she'd never be able to go inside her old home.

"I don't have anything. I don't even have clothes to put on," she said.

Investigators say the fire was accidental. But are still looking into exactly how it started.

"We have an area that we are concentrating on and those individuals there indicated there are certain things that happened which are consistent to what the stories of others are saying," said Lt. Shawn Jones of the Richmond Fire Department.

Several residents told us a candle was accidentally knocked over in a second floor apartment.

"My nerves are still…to come here and see it's just just feel like you've lost your whole life," said resident Don Rohm.

He came back today to try and get more belongings. He's one of the lucky few who only experience severe water damage.

"It's just horrendous when you go in there and look at what used to be pretty carpets now it's like muddy mush," he said.

Phones wouldn't stop ringing at the Red Cross headquarters, where more than 150 people have already called offering help.

Red Cross leaders say the housing was subsidized and most of the residents are on fixed incomes. Members say they need local apartment complexes to step forward and possibly offer lower rents.

"These clients can't afford a normal rent which is on average in our area $800 or $1,000 a month," said Paul Hundley of the Red Cross.

At least 35 people lost everything and dozens more could be without a permanent home for weeks, if they are ever able to move back here at all.

(c) 2009. WWBT, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.