Residents, neighbors lean on each other after Chevy Chase arson -- Gazette.Net


Four days after an arson fire erupted at a Chevy Chase apartment building, neighbors came together to offer assistance and remove their belongings from the ashes.

The resident who is accused of starting the fire May 1 told police he set the blaze because he was mad at his parents, according to court records. The fire displaced more than 100 people.

At noon Saturday, Catherine Miller and her roommate Amy Shapiro for the last time visited their apartment at the Round Hill complex at 2815 Terrace Drive. The fire had shorn away the roof over their second-floor bedrooms and run through the walls to the first-floor living room, ruining dozens of Miller's acrylic and water color paintings.

"I have to work out logistics and, your brain is addled; so how do you figure out what to bring? Where to go?" Miller said, remembering coming home late from work at 6:30 p.m. May 1 to witness the aftermath of the fire. "I had one hour, from seven to eight o'clock, to grab a week's full of clothes and call my friends."

The displaced residents had one thing to be thankful for. Although two Montgomery County firefighters were sent to the hospital to recover from injuries, few residents were home when the fire began and no one was injured in the blaze.

Residents were asked to remove their possessions from their ash-strewn units by Saturday. Most residents are staying at hotels or with friends and family members. Miller, 60, is staying at a friend's house.

Meanwhile, resident Abraham Ogazgi Kiflu, 24, who police say admitted to starting the fire in his parentsí second floor apartment, was ordered held in jail on $300,000 bail with a charge of first-degree arson. Montgomery County state's attorneys are considering adding 33 counts of arson to Kiflu's charges; one for each occupied unit in the building.

"Sometimes you live in the same building with people and ... do you really know the people who live next to you?" Marinela Moreno, a resident of unit 218, said as she watched insurance agents assess her apartment Friday afternoon. "Thatís why everybody is so shocked. How could someone do this?"

After spending two nights with her sister and her brother-in-law, Moreno was staying in a hotel thanks to the Red Cross, which arrived the night of the fire to ensure residents had shelter and food.

As news spread about the fire, offers of assistance poured in to neighborhood listservs, said Randy Bosin, who lives in another building in the Round Hill complex.

"When I checked my email, before I could even write anything, people who live nearby had already written to ask what they could do to help," Bosin said. "... Somebody called up a packing company and got them to donate boxes and packing material, stuff that I wouldn't even think of."

Bosin and others designed a website for displaced residents to post their needs and receive offers of help from volunteers in addition to the immediate care provided by the Red Cross. Ohr Kodesh, a Jewish congregation down the street, opened a donation bin and placed three storage pods outside the building for residents.

"These are our neighbors," said Jerome Kiewe, executive director of Ohr Kodesh. "A lot of our congregants wanted to help; people are good at heart and they really rise to the occasion."

Their efforts were not unnoticed Saturday as Shapiro looked up through a set of charred support beams, the only thing that remains of the roof that once covered her bedroom.

"Seeing that, I actually feel like I want to help in the support effort, too," she said. "I was involved in the fire but I feel like I haven't been affected as profoundly as some of the other residents."

Nearby, Rob Shapiro, Amy's brother, made an inventory of the items his sister lost in the fire, picking through soggy ashes and smoke-damaged clothing and bedding. He shook his head, following his sister's gaze to the skylight overhead.

"When the roof that shelters and comforts you is gone, that sends shivers down your spine," he said. "Until you've seen it, you can never imagine how destructive it was, how many people it affected."