Residents evacuated Bon Wit Plaza and watched a blaze scorch a fourth floor room after an electrical fire in an apartment kitchen spread and burst out the room’s window Saturday night. The GW Hospital treated two people for minor smoke inhalation, but no other injuries were reported, said David Kalun, site manager for the complex that is located on the corner of H and 24th streets.
“It was a quick, very fast type of fire,” Kalun said.
The fire started at about 10:45 p.m. in unit 404, which faces H Street. The owner of the apartment, who was outside the room when the fire began stayed in the Watergate complex Sunday, Kalun said.
“This is something you hope you never have to see,” said junior Matt Hodgeman, a third-floor resident.
Shortly after 11 p.m. fire fighters extinguished the blaze, which left burn and smoke marks above the fourth-floor window. The fire did not seriously damage any other rooms, fire officials on the scene said.
Kalun said the cause of the electrical fire was still under investigation.
Bon Wit Plaza residents were sheltered in fire trucks while firefighters worked in the building.
Residents were allowed back into the building early Sunday morning within hours of the fire, Kalun said. Metro Police closed H Street from 23rd to 25th streets and 24th from H to I streets as firefighters worked to secure the building around midnight.
Witnesses said D.C. Fire Company trucks were on the scene almost immediately after the building’s alarm sounded.
“Once we saw smoke coming out of the top, that’s when the fire fighters showed up,” said junior John Kirkman, who watched the events from across the street on the eight floor of New Hall.
Firefighters extended a ladder from a truck parked in front of the building’s main entrance on H Street to the fourth floor, where firemen smashed the windows to the apartment to prevent the blaze from spreading throughout the building.
Building residents said the extent of the fire was not visible until firefighters broke through the window.
“As soon as they got the window open, it was just billowing fire coming out,” said Robin Herman, who was visiting her son on the first floor when the alarm sounded. “It was amazing.”
Firefighters rushed up apartment stairs with fire hoses to extinguish the fire while men on the ladder removed windowpanes, residents said. Water sprayed from inside the apartment across H Street, freezing on the sidewalk and road where residents watched thick black smoke pour from the charred apartment’s windows.
Hodgeman said he had trouble descending the stairs because of hurried firefighters.
“(The hoses) almost strangled us,” he said.
As the alarm sounded and tenants began vacating the building, thick smoke filled the stairwell above the fourth floor, hampering evacuation, residents said.
“It was difficult to get down the stairs,” ninth-floor resident Ethel Brooks said.
Brooks said smoke began to fill the top floor of the building as she left.
“It’s very unsettling,” she said.
Witnesses said some people fled the building covered in black residue and coughing heavily, but did not see anyone seriously injured.
“People came out with black all over their faces,” junior Angel Savvakis said.
Firefighters said they would remain on the scene for about three hours Saturday night ensuring the safety of the building.
Kalun said the fire was a first for Bon Wit Plaza.
“There’s never been a fire. This is the first time,” he said.
Kalun said he was unsure how many students lived in the building, but residents estimated GW graduate and undergraduate students occupy about 75 percent of the building.