photo: WWJ/Mike Campbell

Dozens Escape Detroit Apartment Fire: 'I Thought I Was About To Die'

July 24, 2018 - 6:17 am

DETROIT (WWJ) - It was a terrifying morning for dozens of people who escaped from an apartment building that investigators believe was intentionally set ablaze on Detroit's west side. 

The fire took off early Tuesday at the 62-unit Viceroy Apartments on Heritage Place, in a neighborhood along I-96 near Joy Road and Dexter Avenue.

When firefighters arrived, the flames were spreading along the fourth floor and smoke was pouring out of the top of the building. 

Several families, many with children, were able to escape from the building without injury. 

"It was horrible trying to get my kids from the fourth floor down to here, right along with my elderly pops, trying to get him down the stairs. And my cousin, she's also pregnant. So it was shocking, terrifying," B.J. Johnson told WWJ's Mike Campbell.

Anthony Shank had to climb down a ladder to escape.

"It was scary. I thought I was about to die. For real, I thought I was about to die," he said. "I was just thinking I was about to die the whole time. I got on sandals, I thought my foot was about to slip. I thought I was about to die."

Officials say this is the third time in two days the building has caught fire and arson is suspected. Fire Chief Gene Biondo said accelerant, perhaps gasoline, was found on the scene. Some on the scene said gas was poured along the front door, which looked like a plan to trap people inside behind a wall of flame. 

"We have no suspects at this point. Arson is investigating right now, they are interviewing as many of the occupants as possible," he said.

Tenant Cindy Dowdy said her boyfriend spotted a masked man carrying a gas can in the building before the building went up in flames. 

"The guy had on a mask, the guy was carrying a gasoline can and my boyfriend startled him. The girl behind him pushed him, said 'Keep going,'" she said. "He asked me if I saw anybody at the window, and two people went running up this street."

A firefighter was injured while working the scene, but is expected to recover. 

Officials are calling this a suspected case of arson. ATF agents remain on the scene as an investigation continues.