Residents describe deadly fire at Chesapeake senior living complex

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – Chesapeake fire officials are continuing their investigation into a fire at a senior living complex they say killed three people and injured six others Saturday.

Firefighters responded 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 fire, which took more than two hours to extinguish. The buildings were equipped with smoke detectors and a sprinkler system, officials said. The fire left 144 apartments uninhabitable and displaced 150 residents, according to the fire department.

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

Resident Ernestine Tillett was able to recover some clothing from her apartment Monday. She credited a firefighter for saving her life.

“I was on my chaise in the small bedroom and then there was another bang and I went to the door and this man was saying, ‘Ma’am, get out now! Get out of here now, ma’am! Come out! The place is on fire!’ And I looked out and I saw the blaze. I could not believe it,” she said. “My heart is made to bleed for those families… the people that lost their lives and I’m just thankful to God that we made it out as we could, and the only way we did was because of the Chesapeake Fire Department,” she said, choking up.

Tillett is staying with her daughter for now, like Inez Sawyer, who said she was in a nightgown and bare feet when she fled her unit.

“It hurt. I stayed out there, in that corner there, and watched the place when it burned…It was just nerve-wracking, I’m telling you,” Sawyer said.

She said she is too afraid to come back.

Photos: Deadly fire at Chesapeake senior home

Firefighters have not yet identified the victims, but Vernon Elliott said he learned Monday that he knew one of them.

“She was a beautiful person. She was a kind, sweet, and loving person… I know accidents happen, but we never know what’s going to happen in the future. That’s the only thing we can do is keep praying and make the best of it,” Elliott said.

The fire happened on a stormy night, but firefighters have not confirmed that it was caused by a lightning strike.

A spokesperson for the Red Cross said it is providing counseling, casework help and food and water to the families out of their homes. City officials said they are working on a long-term plan for the people impacted by the fire.

According to Boyd Homes, a property management team has arranged housing for displaced residents, including hotel rooms.

“We send our deepest condolences for those who tragically lost their lives and their families,” Boyd Homes said in a statement.

If you would like to donate to assist the victims, you can do so through the United Way of South Hampton Roads’ website. A special fund has been created under the “donate” tab on the site. Donated items are not being accepted at this time, only monetary donations.

Family members and friends attempting to locate loved ones may either e-mail or call 757-275-7696 between the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.