UPDATE: On Friday, Portsmouth detectives and Fire Marshalls’ have identified three persons of interest, who they believe may have vital information about this case. Read more here.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A four-unit apartment building in the 1100 block Victory Boulevard in Portsmouth is condemned following a tragic two-alarm fire Wednesday night.

The blaze has shaken the entire neighborhood.

Before firefighters arrived, neighbor Darius Conley and a passerby used a ladder retrieved from a nearby home to pull three girls to safety. They were unable to reach an elderly woman from another unit.

“We went to the side of the house one of the guys [a neighbor] was yelling ‘My grandma is inside — my grandma is inside.’ She was at the window trying to come up but I guess she was so scared she just went back in. We looked up and there were kids in the window on the second floor,” said Conley.

“The fire people pulled up there was a guy running down the street with a ladder and they just worked together,” said Conley.

The guy running down the street with the ladder was Machinist Mate Nathaniel Atkins, who is assigned to the Norfolk- based USS Gerald R. Ford.

Machinist Mate Nathaniel Atkins (Courtesy photo)

Atkins was leaving a nearby grocery store when he saw the flames and pulled over to help. Atkins says his intensive training in the Navy, where his secondary job is as a firefighter, helped him make quick decisions in executing the rescue.

“I have the training, and I needed to stop and help,” said Atkins.

Atkins told 10 On Your side by the time he arrived, the entire front porch was on fire. He regrets that he did not arrive five minutes earlier.

“I wish that I had been there sooner. I could have saved the older woman,” said Atkins.

The Portsmouth Fire Department has not released information on the person who died and the conditions of those who survived. However, a neighbor, whose daughters were rescued by citizens and firefighters, say the elderly resident, who was on oxygen, died at a local hospital. Vandeesha Taylor is grateful for the people who rescued her three daughters but saddened about her neighbor.

Taylor’s 10-year-old daughter was treated in the Intensive Care Unit at CHKD Wednesday night. By Thursday afternoon, Taylor told 10 On Your Side her daughter is making a full recovery.

Conley and a displaced resident claim this fatal fire was no accident. Conley says the fire was underway during a violent confrontation involving two neighbors.

“I saw the fighting in the front yard and I saw the big fire coming out the window — they were trying to break up the fight right here and the guy ran down the street,” Conley said.

On Friday, fire officials did say cause of the fire has been deemed suspicious after a preliminary investigation. The case is under investigation by the the Portsmouth Police Detective Bureau and the Portsmouth Fire Marshal’s Office.

Three dogs died in the fire and the American Red Cross is assisting 13 people who were displaced by the fire.

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