Fire officials on Tuesday identified one of the victims who died in a fatal fire at a senior living complex as 61-year-old Cynthia Martenis.
Three people died, six were injured and more than 150 displaced in the four-alarm blaze early Saturday at Chesapeake Crossing Senior Community Apartments.
Fire Chief Edmund Elliott told council members Tuesday evening that the cause was at least one lightning strike, if not more.
The fire started high up in the complex, possibly in the attic, although firefighters may not be able to pinpoint the point of origin given the extent of the damage, fire spokesman Capt. Scott Saunders said.
There were no sprinklers in the attic, and the complex was not required to have them there, he said.
The complex had sprinklers with an audible alarm in the living areas of the buildings and smoke detectors in each unit. It did not have a separate fire alarm system but was not required to under building codes when the apartments were constructed in the ’90s, according to the fire department.
Just after 4:30 a.m. Saturday, firefighters were called to the independent-living complex in the 1900 block of Robert Hall Blvd., near Battlefield Boulevard and Military Highway.
First responders arrived to find people who were trapped or unaware of the fire, Elliott told council members at Tuesday’s work session. Firefighters and police officers forced their way into some apartments and carried residents “literally from their beds” to safety, he said.
Some trapped residents were rescued from their windows by ground ladder, Elliott said. Others were evacuated with walkers, canes and scooters. Crews had the fire under control shortly before 7 a.m.
City Manager James Baker told council members it was the third significant fire that day, including a multiple alarm blaze in southern Chesapeake.
The three people who died were found in different areas of the complex, and two have yet to be publicly identified. The six who were hospitalized, including two firefighters, have since been released, according to the fire department.
Some 144 apartments were deemed uninhabitable. Elliott said 25 residents remain in hotel rooms until more permanent housing can be found. Work has begun to move residents back into the unburned units, and 36 people are expected to go home today. Another 36 should return by early next week, he said. About 60 units will be needed for permanent or long-term housing for residents who lived in the three buildings completely destroyed by the fire, he said.
Saunders said there are “too many variables” to know whether sprinklers in the attic would have affected the outcome. When fires strike high, above the sprinklers, they can sometimes disable the systems, rendering them inoperable, he said.
The complex had a National Fire Protection Association 13R sprinkler system, which Saunders said is common for hotels and apartments of this size, up to four stories tall. Such a system covers large living areas but not necessarily unoccupied spots such as attics, small bathrooms and closets.
The system is designed to allow people to escape but not necessarily extinguish the fire, Saunders said.
Facilities that are more than four stories tall generally require a different sprinkler system throughout the entire building, he said.