Detroit fire officials are investigating whether someone poured gasoline down a hallway to spark the fast-moving fire that gutted an apartment complex early Wednesday, causing injuries and leaving as many as seven people unaccounted for.
The 6 a.m. blaze came just three hours after police responded to a disturbance at the Jason Manor Apartments, where a 19-year-old female visiting the building during a party said she had been sexually assaulted by four men, police said. She was taken to the hospital.
“Police were on the scene for a while. Then, sometime between when the police left and we got the call, it looks like the fire was set,” said Detroit Fire Commissioner Jonathan Jackson, according to NBC affiliate WDIV.
Fire officials couldn’t immediately say if there were any fatalities, although five to seven people remained unaccounted for Wednesday afternoon. Thirty-nine of the 42 units in the three-story complex were occupied at the time of the fire, Jackson said.
“Our firefighters did a heroic job,” he added.
Officials said they rescued about 25 people, some of whom had to leap out of their apartment windows to avoid the fire. With the building reduced to rubble, residents — some half-naked and in pajamas — were transported out of the early-morning cold to a local church. The Red Cross and other groups responded with food and clothing.
The survivors recounted how they were jolted from bed hearing screams and smelling smoke. The flames engulfed the exits.
Aundrell Grayson said his family’s only choice was to flee through the window of his second-floor apartment. He was with his 3-year-old daughter and wife.
“Somebody was already outside, and I handed down the baby first, then my wife, then me,” Grayson told WDIV.
“It’s real scary,” he said as his daughter, wrapped in a blanket, stayed warm inside a car. “I’m just happy that we’re out.”
— Erik Ortiz
The Associated Press contributed to this report.