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Fire Leaves 12 Homeless

Electrical overload sparks two-alarm blaze in South Arlington apartment complex.

When a South Arlington woman fled her burning apartment this weekend, she saved herself and her unborn child but opened the door to danger for her neighbors.

Residents of 25 apartment units evacuated their homes Saturday, July 18, after a two-alarm fire broke out at the Tyroll Hills apartment complex on the 800 block of South Florida Street. Twelve people were left without homes after five of those units were declared uninhabitable. Several residents sustained injuries, but there were no fatalities.

"The majority are very shell-shocked at this point," said Jenny Brennan, public support coordinator for the Arlington chapter of the American Red Cross. None of the victims were ready to discuss the incident, Brennan said.

Red Cross volunteers and staffers established temporary shelter for the residents at local hotels and at the Thomas Jefferson Community Center over the weekend, and provided food and other essentials for the displaced residents.

An overloaded extension chord sparked the blaze shortly after __ p.m., according to Capt. George Williams of the Arlington County Fire Department. Eight engines, two trucks, and about 40 emergency personnel responded to the scene, but the fire had already caused an estimated $150,000 of damage.

FLAMES SPREAD QUICKLY across the garden-style apartment complex. "When the resident was awoken by the fire, she jumped up and ran out of the apartment, and she left the door open," said Williams. "It moved really quickly."

The building’s concrete walls would have helped contain the flames until firefighters arrived, Williams said. But the open door fanned the fire and allowed it to spread, trapping other residents in the building.

Two women, a man and a preschool-aged child jumped from third-floor windows to escape. The male jumper landed on a firefighter, who had to be treated for injuries at Virginia Hospital Center-Arlington.

The electrical fire nearly became a larger problem, after the main gas line to the apartment complex broke. Luckily, firefighters extinguished the flames in time, and the gas didn’t ignite. But the leak forced emergency officials to evacuate the entire complex of about 25 units.

TO HELP VICTIMS, Red Cross officials issued vouchers for clothing, groceries and personal care products. "We will be involved as long as it takes to meet their short-term recovery needs," said Colin Chaperon, emergency services coordinator for the local Red Cross.

Most of the victims are of Ethiopian descent, Chaperon said, and many speak limited English. Despite that challenge, recovery efforts are proceeding. Chaperon is in discussion this week with the property managers of Tyroll Hills, trying to establish temporary housing in any available units.

Reached for comment, a representative of the apartment complex refused to answer questions.

Red Cross officials are also asking for assistance from the community. "The way they can help is to replenish our disaster relief fund," or by earmarking donations for Tyroll Hill fire victims, Brennan said.