NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – Fire broke out in a 9th floor apartment at The Towers in Newport News Friday afternoon.
Newport News Police Department spokesman Lou Thurston told WAVY.com investigators have determined it was a cooking fire that caused crews to be called out around 1 p.m.
There were still people in the building when fire crews arrived, because with high rise structures, occupants are instructed to wait to be escorted out by firefighters because of the smoke. The entire building in the 700 block of Waterfront Circle was then evacuated.
“I looked at the door and I seen the black smoke in the exit,” resident Regina Mabry said.
“12 floors, 144 apartements, people with babies and senior citzens can’t get out,” resident Lisa Griffith added. “It is just a bad situation.”
Newport News Fire Chief Kenneth Lay said the fire was under control just after 2 p.m. He said because of the number of residents affected, a second alarm was called for more resources to respond to the scene.
“I was scared, but I was more scared for the people that were in there that couldn’t get out,” said resident Sharon Tolliver. “There is a lot of handicapped people in here that are in wheelchairs or bed ridden. Instinct just kicked in and we started knocking on doors trying to get the people out.”
“I had my grandbaby and we were choking trying to get down,” Mabry added. “We made it though.”
One person was transported to a local hospital for an unrelated medical issue. No other injuries were reported.
21 units throughout the 12-story building were condemned. The condemned apartments are located on floors six, seven and eight, the entire ninth floor and one apartment on the 10th floor, according to Lay. He said 200 people live in the building, and 37 of those residents have been displaced.
The American Red Cross provided food and clothing assistance to three residents, but no residents needed them for lodging assistance.
A couple hours after the fire broke out, residents of the unaffected units were allowed back inside.