Fire destroys apartment building on Detroit's west side; 'a lot' of residents missing

2:04 PM, Mar 5, 2014   |    comments
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Detroit, Michigan (Detroit Free Press) -- Residents lept from windows as flames engulfed a three-story apartment complex Wednesday morning on Detroit's west side.

"A lot" of people are unaccounted for, and three remain in area hospitals receiving treatment for injuries from jumping out of the three-story building, said Detroit Police officer Jennifer Moreno.

Firefighters rescued about 25 people, and four were taken from the scene by ambulance. Three more were treated on-scene for minor injuries. A school bus was brought to the scene to give residents a makeshift shelter from the sub-freezing temperatures.

"A lot of people were half-naked," said Doug Woodcock, who works at a nearby building supplier. "We gave them shoes."

At the fire's peak, the flames were so massive that embers blew into the freeway.

Detroit Fire Commissioner Jonathan Jackson said the fire started shortly after 6 a.m. on the north side of the Jason Manor Apartments. Police had been called to that side earlier last night to deal with a disturbance at a party, he said.

Moreno confirmed that police responded to an alleged rape and the 19-year-old female victim is hospitalized. She said police haven't found indications the two events were connected.

A source familiar with the investigation said the woman called police at about 3 a.m. saying she had been raped by four men in an apartment during a birthday party. The woman was transported to a local hospital and officers went to the apartment, but no one answered, the source said.

No one has been arrested in connection with the alleged assault, police said.

Jackson said the building is a total loss. There were 42 units, 39 of which were occupied.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Ellery Taylor, 52, woke up to make coffee when he saw the smoke coming from under his door. The fire grew so quickly that he found himself taking the screen off his apartment window.

"I heard a lady say, 'Jump if you have to, jump if you have to,'" he said, then he jumped. "It happened so quick. Everybody jumped."

Taylor said that thousands of dollars worth of his belongings were lost, including his Bible, medications and wallet.

Firefighters rescued Amber Mickles, 22, from her third-story unit shortly before it burned down to the bricks. She'd worried she might have to jump, but rescuers arrived within minutes, she said.

Woodcock, who works at Universal Weatherstrip and Building Supply, said numerous residents of the Jason Manor Apartments have health issues. Shaun Damiani, who also works there, said they've previously noticed a "lot of disturbances" such as domestic violence at the complex, and it's not unusual to see police cars outside a couple times a month.

They stood watching the firefight as traffic blocked access to businesses.

"I can't believe it went up that quickly," Woodcock said.

By Robert Allen and Gina Damron, Detroit Free Press writers

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