NEWPORT NEWES, Va. (WAVY) - Newport News fire investigators say the improper disposal of smoking materials is what started a massive apartment fire Saturday.
Newport News Fire Department spokesman Stephen Pincus said units responded to the The Ashton Apartments at Oyster Point in the 800 block of Constance Drive at 5:26 p.m. They arrived four minutes later to find heavy flames coming from one of the apartment buildings.
Several residents told WAVY.com they were inside their apartment buildings when the fire started.
"I smelled smoke, and I was just kind of like wondering what was going on," resident Scott Cox said.
Cox quickly realized his apartment building was on fire, and he rushed to save his 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.
Residents also rushed in the building to help warn their neighbors about the blaze.
"We banged on doors. There were some doors I banged on the first time that we banged on the second time and people came out," resident Nathan Kirkland said. "I'm not talking about 'knock, knock, knock.'"
We used both hands pounding on the doors."
Thanks to residents like Kirkland, investigators said everyone made it of the burning building safely.
"It was starting to get pretty bad until the fire people came out, started putting stuff out, and spraying it out," Kirkland said. "It started to feed into the chimney area, and onto the roof. They had to kick out some of the windows and stuff."
Investigators said the fire spread quickly because the 12 units in the building were connected to the same chimney.
"It was kind of scary," resident Dana Munsterman said. "I mean all the glass was breaking out, and pieces of the deck were falling off."
Fire damaged three of the apartments and spread throughout the attic. The remaining units sustained smoke and water damage. Officials condemned the twelve-unit building.
Newport News Emergency Management was notified because 22 people were displaced by the fire, however, no shelters had to be opened because the Red Cross and the apartment management found residents a place to stay for the night. The apartment management was also working closely with the residents to find them alternative housing.
Investigators said they believed the fire started on the second floor balcony by improperly discarded smoking materials. Pincus said the preliminary damage estimate was in excess of $100,000.
"Material things can be replaced, but you can't replace lives," Cox said. "No body died that's the main thing," Cox said.
Pincus said many of the renters owned pets, but so far all had been found unharmed.
A tractor-trailer crashed into a pole in Suffolk early Friday morning.
Crews battled a structure fire at a Newport News motel early Friday morning.
Police say a 2-year-old and a 23-year-old Navy sailor based in Virginia were killed in a crash on Interstate 64 in southern Indiana near Corydon.