More than 30 families have been temporarily displaced after a suspicious fire broke out Saturday night on the unoccupied sixth floor of the District’s biggest family homeless shelter.
D.C. General, located at 1900 Massachusetts Ave. SE, saw a fire around 9:30 p.m., which D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services was able to bring under control within half an hour of responding. Although the fire itself didn’t cause significant damage to the facility, water that was used to put out the blaze resulted in damage to rooms on the fifth floor.
Two dozen of the displaced families were relocated to motels, while the remainder found accommodations through relatives or friends, Department of Human Services Director Laura Zeilinger says. It’s expected that the families will be able to return to D.C. General on Wednesday, after repairs and cleaning are complete.
FEMS and the Metropolitan Police Department are investigating the fire as potential arson, although no criminal intent has been determined.
Zeilinger says DHS has increased security throughout D.C. General, with guards checking the sixth floor “to make sure we’re controlling access to places” that aren’t in use. “It’s worrisome for all of us,” she adds. “I absolutely share the concern, and we will do everything we can within our power” to keep families safe. DHS distributed letters to residents of the facility with preliminary information about the incident.
Around 250 homeless families—including hundreds of children—live in deteriorating conditions at the former hospital, which the District government has committed to closing and replacing with smaller shelters across the city by 2020. Under a plan worked out by Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. Council, new shelters on public land that will house between 30 and 50 families on a short-term basis will supplant D.C. General. Some of the proposed replacement shelters are now being designed, before they undergo zoning review.
Authorities have asked residents to call 202-673-ARSON if they have information that may assist with the investigation of the fire.