Archive for Sunday, September 12, 2004

Ten killed in suspected arson

September 12, 2004

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— A suspected arson fire raced through an apartment complex in suburban Columbus on Sunday, killing 10 people who lived in the same apartment and forcing others to jump from third-story windows to escape.

At least 53 people were left homeless by the blaze in Prairie Township, which destroyed the building's roof and third floor, melted siding and left its wooden skeleton exposed.

Antonio Noriega said firefighters pulled him from a ladder as he tried to rescue his brothers and nephews.

"My family is dead," Noriega said. Eight of his relatives, including three young boys, and two friends lived in the apartment, he said. Authorities wouldn't say whether others were still missing.

The fire came just six weeks after three fires were set in the same building in an empty apartment and hallway, Fire Chief Steve Feustel said. There were no suspects and no known witnesses to Sunday's suspected arson, he said.

The victims lived on the third floor and tried to escape, Feustel said.

"They were out of their beds. They didn't die in their sleep," he said.

Two people, including a woman who jumped from a window, were treated and released from a hospital, a nursing supervisor said.

Residents of the gutted 24-unit building stood vigil outside -- some wrapped in blankets, some quietly sobbing.

The fire started about 2:30 a.m. in the basement or the first floor, but the cause was not known, Feustel said. He said the fire burned fiercely in a stairway, blocking people from escaping.

Killed in the fire were Ismael Noriega, 36; his wife, Lidia Mejia, 22; their three young sons; Mejia's two brothers; her nephew and two family friends, according to Antonio Noriega, Ismael's brother.

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