Fire department rules lightning as cause of deadly Chesapeake fire

(Bill Cole/WAVY Photo)

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Fire investigators have ruled lightning as the cause of a deadly fire at a senior living complex Saturday.

Crews were called to the four-alarm fire at Chesapeake Crossing off Robert Hall Boulevard after 4:30 a.m. Three three-story buildings were involved in the blaze. It took over two hours for firefighters to extinguish it. In the end, the fire killed three people and injured six others.

Firefighters have identified one of the three victims as Cynthia Martenis, 61, of Chesapeake. The other two victims have not been identified at this time.

3 dead, 6 hurt after fire at Chesapeake senior living complex

The American Red Cross went room to room at hotels in Chesapeake Tuesday, delivering meals to residents forced out by the fire, including Sharon Johnson.

“It was awful. We stay on the third floor and when we came out the house, everything was in flames to our right,” she said.

Johnson said she was making the best of her situation and thinking of those who didn’t survive.

“Those people who died in that fire, I really feel so sorry for their families, you know, because that’s awful,” Johnson said.

Residents describe deadly fire at Chesapeake senior living complex

Stephen Moore with the American Red Cross said they were providing lunch and dinner to those who need it, trying to make life easier for the victims.

“We actually came down yesterday from Richmond. We brought our Emergency Response Vehicle and together with another local ERV team, we’re providing feeding to help alleviate some of the suffering that the residents from the senior community in Chesapeake have experienced due to the fire…Each of us have about five hotels. Everybody’s kind of spread out. We’re just trying to make sure we hit everybody that has a need for us,” Moore said.

David Rudiger, president of Boyd Homes, said 68 units were damaged beyond repair. They were working with those residents to end leases, prorate rent, and help them find a new place to live, he said.

Rudiger said some units that will eventually be accessible were unoccupied Tuesday because of a major transformer out of service that crews were working to restore. Other units were not accessible because the sprinkler system was damaged by fire. Approximately two buildings had residents moving back in, he said.

Captain Scott Saunders tells WAVY.com that the buildings did not have a fire alarm that notified dispatchers — but was still in compliance with building code.

Saunders says at the time the complex was built, the building code did not require the complex to have fire alarms. Buildings must comply with the code under which they were built, according to Saunders. Fire code simply requires structures to follow their building code.

The buildings were equipped with smoke detectors and a sprinkler system, according to officials. The sprinkler system will — and did — cause an alarm to sound, but it does not notify dispatchers. Officials believe smoke detectors were in each unit. These are single station smoke detectors, meaning not all of the detectors would sound unless all of them detected smoke.

Still, the complex was in compliance with building code.

Rudiger said the apartment complex would work with Chesapeake fire officials to see what they recommend for alarms in the future.

Three people were found dead in different locations of the complex. Four residents and two firefighters were injured, but were all in stable condition at least check.

This is a developing story. Stay with WAVY.com for continuing coverage.