Empire apartment fires raise concerns among residents

Empire apartment residents say they are concerned about two fires that have occurred in the past six months, but building management said the building is in compliance with fire codes.

The first fire on May 1 filled the building with smoke because of flooding near basement electrical panels. The Hatchet previously reported that alarms did not sound, causing evacuation problems. The second fire on Oct. 29 was the result of a resident burning an item on the kitchen stove.

Residents at The Empire said they are troubled with the building’s safety and even started a blog to discuss their concerns. The online forum discusses safety issues from the first fire in May.

Empire resident Julia Moss, a junior, said that although both fires were unrelated, last month’s incident made her more apprehensive of the apartment’s safety.

“Compared to records of other buildings, there is usually not another fire within so short a time,” Moss said in a telephone interview Saturday. “Really, it was just human fallibility that caused the second one. The first was completely (Empire’s) fault.”

She said she woke up during the October fire evacuation not from the alarm, but from someone banging on her door.

Empire resident Greg Tardif, a student at the Corcoran College of Art and Design on 17th Street, said a friend slept through the first fire because the fire alarms did not sound. He said he thinks the building’s age is related to its recent problems.

“I’m more worried about the older people,” said Tardif, who said he is not particularly concerned with his own safety.

Dennis Barmore, property manager of The Empire for the Cafritz Company, said the building meets all fire codes. He said it is important to note that the two fires were completely unrelated, with the first being a flooding issue and the second a result from a resident’s actions.

He added that D.C. government would not allow the building to be occupied if it were unsafe.

“When the building was closed, the city would not open it until all standards and codes were met,” he said.

D.C. Deputy Fire Chief Richard Fleming said that although he could not discuss a building’s compliance, fire codes were not a contributing factor in either of The Empire’s two recent fires. He said the problems leading to the May fire have been resolved.

Residential apartment buildings such as The Empire are inspected on a regular basis to be in accordance with the D.C. Fire Code, Fleming said. The inspections are limited to common areas – not extending to individual apartments – and look for factors such as proper exit signs and fire extinguishers.

“With over 10,000 buildings to inspect, intervals between inspections can be lengthy,” he said. “The relative closeness of the two fires could indicate a problem that requires corrective action.”n

-Kaitlyn Jahrling contributed to this report.

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