DETROIT (WWJ) – Authorities say four people are hospitalized after jumping from windows to escape a four-alarm fire at an apartment building on Detroit’s west side.
Many resident said they suspect arson as the cause of the quickly moving blaze. Many are also wondering if it’s connected to a rape reported at a party about an hour before the flames broke out. The 19-year-old victim of that attack is reportedly hospitalized.
Nearly 12 hours later, fire officials were still unable to account for all the residents of the 31 units.
The fire broke out early Wednesday morning at the Jason Manor apartment complex on Schoolcraft Road near Outer Drive. At least 80 firefighters and 20 trucks responded to the scene.
Detroit Fire Commissioner Jonathon Jackson said crews rescued 25 people who were trapped inside their apartments. Other residents, some nearly naked, frantically jumped from windows to escape the flames.
“We had four civilians who were transported to the hospital, some of them sustained injuries from jumping from the second and third floor windows,” he said.
Shantell Brooks said firefighters reached her just in time and saved her life.
“I wasn’t even awake for 10 minutes by the time the fire department came. I have no shoes on, I have no nothing. The only thing I was able to grab was my pants and a jacket, that’s it,” she said. “It’s very scary. This is my first experience going through this.”
Another resident, who did not want to be named, said the fire forced her family, including small children, to escape through the window.
“We had to throw [the kids] out of the window, so they could land on their butt, and we did that first and then I jumped and then he jumped,” she said.
Detroit Fire Arson Chief Charles Simms said nearly all of the building’s 42 units were occupied, and as many as 12 tenants are still unaccounted for.
“We have not been able to find everyone who was in the building, and at this point we don’t know all who was in the building. So, we’re still searching and trying to find out from people who jumped, did they know anyone who was still in the building,” he said.
Fire dispatch traffic said multiple fatalities are being reported at the scene, although police could not confirm that report. Cadaver dogs were called to the scene.
Kenendra Taylor, who ran through the halls screaming to alert her neighbors to the fire, said she’s devastated that some people might not have made it out alive.
“I was screaming as loud as I could. And the sad news is they say everybody didn’t get out of there, everybody didn’t make it, and one person is paralyzed,” she said, breaking into tears. “I did the best I could, the best I could.”
Chief Simms said the fire quickly spread through the building, which is now a total loss.
“There’s a total collapse of the roof, across the whole building. Firefighters will be here for a while, probably most of the day today,” he said.
It’s still too early to tell what caused the fire, but Simms said they’re not writing off anything just yet.
“After the firefighters do their suppression, we’re going to go in and find the cause. We will be doing interviews on the scene, canvassing the area, just seeing if anyone has any information regarding this fire,” he said.
Investigators are also trying to figure out if the fire is connected to an alleged sexual assault that occurred at the apartment complex overnight.
Deputy Chief Rodney Johnson said officers were called to the complex around 3:10 a.m. after a 19-year-old woman reported being raped. The call came in as a loud party was talking place in one of the units.
“Officers spoke with a young woman and then began their investigation. There’s no indication that she knew her attacker and it’s our understanding that she did not live there, she was visiting other people,” he said. “In terms of whether she and this event were apart of that party, that’s not clear at this time.”
Johnson said the woman was taken to the hospital for treatment and observation. Police are now looking for a young black male, and are trying to develop a better description of the suspect.
Commissioner Jackson said the alleged assault might have something to do with the fire, which occurred less than two hours after police initially responded to the complex.
“There was a police incident here earlier this morning, and it looks like there may be some connection between the fire and that incident,” Jackson said. “A connection is quite possible.”
Volunteers with the American Red Cross are assisting residents displaced by the fire.
An investigation is ongoing.
Stay with WWJ Newsradio 950 and CBSDetroit.com for the latest.