N. Kent Street fire displaces 2 families

Posted: June 28, 2013

The Winchester Star

Winchester firefighters battle a blaze at 320 N. Kent St. Thursday night. Two families were displaced and no injuries were reported. The cause of the fire has not been determined. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Scott Suda escapes through a first-story window as the home next to his burns Thursday on North Kent Street. Suda said his front door is a keyed deadbolt on both sides and he had lost his key. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Firefighters tear away the burning ceiling of the front porch of a home at 320 N. Kent St. that burned Thursday evening. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — Large crowds lined the streets Thursday night as firefighters battled the second apartment fire on North Kent Street in the city in a little over a week.

Shannon Bethea, 42, said she, her husband and 10-year-old son live downstairs in Apt. A of the building at 320 N. Kent St. — where the fire started — and that four people live upstairs in Apt. B.

All made it out safely before crews arrived on scene at about 6:50 p.m. and found fire coming out of the front and left side of the building.

“I was so shocked,” Bethea said, covering her mouth and staring at the residence as tears welled up in her eyes. “I never would have thought....”

Winchester Police Department spokeswoman Lauren Cummings said the bulk of the fire on the first floor was knocked down by 7 p.m. She said the cause of the blaze is under investigation by the police department and Winchester Fire Marshal’s Office.

The fire is in the same block as one that killed a 2-year-old boy last week.

Christian Cruz was pulled from his family’s burning apartment at 300-302 N. Kent St. shortly before 1 p.m. on June 18 and was later pronounced dead at Winchester Medical Center.

His mother, Sherry Cruz, suffered second- and third-degree burns to her body and injuries to her lungs and throat as a result of that fire.

Cummings said it was too early to link the two fires.

“Obviously they will be looked at closely,” she said.

Bethea’s husband, Thaddeus, 35, said his family had just gotten home and heard the interior smoke detectors going off from outside.

“I went in, checked the kitchen, went back to the living room and checked the [electrical outlets],” he said. “The bedroom was pretty much engulfed.”

He added that the right side of the room was “full of flames.”

He said he yelled for his wife to call 911 and then went upstairs to warn the neighbors.

Shannon Bethea said she has no idea what could have caused the fire.

“Everything I have is in there,” she said. “Everything can be replaced, but your life can’t — I guess that’s the way I have to look at it.”

The upstairs tenants watched their home from a nearby porch, but declined to comment about the fire.

No estimate was given regarding the cost of damage from the fire, but Cummings said the apartments were deemed uninhabitable.

The Congregational-Community Action Project, located at 112 S. Kent St., opened its doors to help the families with food and clothing.

Cummings said the Red Cross also responded to the scene. She added that one family made arrangements for a place to stay Thursday, but she was unsure of what the other family’s plans were.

The landlord of the apartment, Chriss Poulous of Winchester — who also owns the property from the fatal fire at 300-302 N. Kent — responded to the scene.

Poulous said he was surprised when he found out about Thursday’s fire.

When asked about two of his rental properties catching fire in just under two weeks, he said that “it looks like someone did it on purpose.”

He then walked away from the interview.

The landlord’s presence at the scene caused a stir when Christian Cruz’s mother and her boyfriend showed up.

The boyfriend started to give a visibly emotional interview to the media about Poulous, when Sherry Cruz ran over and yelled for him to stop talking.

She grabbed her boyfriend and tried to move him, and he tried to get out of her grip.

“Let the police handle it, please,” Sherry Cruz could be heard telling him.

A Winchester Police Department officer and a bystander managed to get the two broken up, and the boyfriend eventually walked down the street, away from the scene, with Cruz.

The fatal fire at their apartment also is under investigation by the Winchester Police Department and Winchester Fire Marshal’s Office.

Fire Marshal Jeremy Luttrell said at a Friday press conference that investigators are trying to determine the origin and cause of that fire, and the cause of Christian Cruz’s death.

He added that during the search of the apartment at 300-302 N. Kent St., investigators “detected a strong odor consistent with that of flammable liquid in the living room of the house.” He did not identify the liquid.

Cummings said that police officials are not yet calling Thursday’s fire suspicious.

Investigators remained at the scene of Thursday’s fire as rescue crews prepared to leave.

Cummings said 13 stations from the city and Frederick County initially responded to the fire.

It marks the third prominent city blaze in recent weeks.

On May 5, David A. Moats, 53, was killed in a fire at 926 Woodstock Lane. That blaze, ruled as accidental, started after home oxygen equipment ignited while a cigarette was being lit.

— Contact Melissa Boughton at mboughton@winchesterstar.com