Columbia Heights resident Oscar Echeverria got a rude wake-up call around 3:45 this morning: a fire burning in the corner of his apartment. Echeverria only had time to grab his computer and wake some neighbors before fleeing the building at 1514 Newton St. NW.
“All my things there—trashed,” Echeverria said, standing across the street from the building as employees from Pepco worked in his basement apartment.
The fire didn’t injure anyone and seems to have been confined to Echeverria’s room. Still, it knocked out the building’s power and forced the evacuation of around 75 people to the Columbia Heights Community Center.
A blown electrical meter is the suspected cause of the fire, according to D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services spokesman Pete Piringer.
Piringer said there may have been building code violations. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs will handle the investigation.
The District’s property assessment database lists Oscar Serafini as the building’s owner, which a resident confirmed. Serafini did not respond to a request for comment.
Gemma Louis, a 20-year resident of the building, is staying at the community center. She said she was the last one to leave 1514 Newton because her neighbors didn’t wake her on their way out. Instead, she started awake on her own—or with a higher power’s help.
“It is a miracle,” she said, “I really believe God helped me.”
After fleeing her building, Louis stayed with other residents in two Metro buses, brought in as temporary shelter, while they waited to be moved to the community center’s gym.
Inside the gym, residents sat in folding chairs while representatives from District agencies and Spanish translators updated them on the fire’s aftermath.
The temporary accommodation is designed to care for people for one night, according to Peter Benjamin, a Red Cross worker. In the morning the organization will know whether the building’s residents can go home.