Tenant after Detroit fire: 'My heart fell out of my body'

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Jessie Washington had to see the damage for himself.

Washington, 29, just got off his midnight shift parking cars downtown and had returned home to his apartment on the city’s west side Wednesday morning to find the building a burned-out shell covered in ice.

Jessie Washington carries some of his belongings out of his apartment building on the 1600 block of Glendale, which was destroyed in a fire overnight on Detroit’s west side.


“My heart fell out of my body," Washington said. 

Everything between the front door and his apartment on the second floor was blackened from the blaze. The door to Unit 5 was charred and its frame broken after it was kicked in during a search for tenants. 

But the inside of Washington's apartment was largely undisturbed by the fire and the commotion of 60 firefighters and medics overseeing the evacuation of the building.

Washington called his uncle, Zoran Washington, for help. Zoran’s birthday was the previous day, but he felt that his gift was that his nephew wasn’t home when the fire started.

“This is really a blessing,” the 57-year-old said. “This room hasn’t been touched.”

Firefighters were dispatched at 11:26 p.m. Tuesday to the three-story apartment building in the 1600 block of Glendale. That's south of Davison and east of Rosa Parks. 

Of the tenants who were home at the time of the fire, seven required transports to area hospitals for medical attention, including five girls, ranging from 2-6 years old. 

The stairs inside the apartment building on the 1600 block of Glendale, which was destroyed in a fire overnight.

There was "heavy smoke and fire" on arrival as overnight temperatures hovered just above 0. By the time firefighters arrived, a 31-year-old woman and a 34-year-old man had jumped out of the building from the second floor, said Dave Fornell, deputy commissioner of the Detroit Fire Department.

Both required transport to Detroit Receiving Hospital, the woman for smoke inhalation and back pain, the man for smoke inhalation and foot pain.

A Detroit firefighter also suffered second-degree burns to his neck and face but was quickly treated and released, Fornell said.

The cold temperatures added an element of difficulty to the firefighting, Fornell added. 

In addition to the 70 pounds of gear each firefighter carries, the water froze as soon as the firefighters stepped back outside, making their uniforms even heavier. The sidewalk in front of the home was frozen over. Icicles hung from busted-open windows and from power lines near the building. 

Three hours after the fire started, firefighters had to return to the scene to put down a "rekindling," Fornell said. But even hours after the scene cleared, smoke still rose faintly from the embers.

Fornell said the early, unofficial belief is that the fire was electrical in nature and likely accidental. It started on the first floor and headed north, charring hallways and stairwells.

Several of Washington’s drawings tacked up on the apartment’s walls also survived the fire. One of them was a drawing of the angel Uriel, who Washington credited for his fortune.

Several drawings escaped the fire in Jesse Washington's apartment. One of them was a drawing of the angel Uriel, who he credits with his good fortune.

“Uriel, all day!” Washington said. “That’s one of God’s angels." 

The two men took several minutes to pack up essentials for the uncertainty ahead: clothes, cash, a television, chakra crystals, a video game console, video games — Washington had just bought three new ones the day before — and music.

Taking occasional swigs from a bottle and drags from a cigar as he packed, Washington planned to head to his uncle's place, and then eventually to the Red Cross to get assistance. Washington had another shift at midnight, and he planned to be there.

As he gingerly climbed down the iced-over steps to the sidewalk, several video games and CDs fell from the back pocket of his oversized purple suitcase.

“Broken zipper,” Washington explained as he scooped up what had fallen. “I ain’t even worried about that right now.”