DETROIT — A fifth person has died as a result of a wind-whipped apartment fire this afternoon on Detroit's far east side.
Firefighters rescued a man from a burning 8-unit apartment building, but he later died at the hospital, Deputy Detroit Fire Commissioner David Fornell.
He said the genders and ages of the other four people killed are not yet known. Investigators are at the scene but it’s not yet known what caused the fire, which was reported at about 1:30 p.m.
In addition to the fatalities, four people are being treated for smoke inhalation and burns at the hospital for injuries, including three males and a female.
“The building was destroyed,” Fornell said.
Sea Thomas, 29, and her mother Marion Thomas, 62, live in the house directly behind the building, located just north of I-94 near Cadieux.
They let their dog out around 1:20 p.m. and noticed the animal was acting antsy and sniffing the air along the wooden privacy fence in their backyard.
Sea Thomas said as she moved closer to the two-story orange-brick building, she realized it was on fire and started knocking on first floor windows trying to alert residents to get out of the burning building.
The pair said someone inside the complex broke out the glass from the second story rear corner unit. Flames then shot out and over the roof, whipped by the wind, they said.
“The flames were jumping. The smoke was so thick is was just rolling,” Marion Thomas said. “You couldn’t see anything. It was pitch black.”
Neighbors said they called 911 multiple times but couldn’t get through.
Sea Thomas said she eventually jumped in her car and drove to a fire station that’s a few blocks away to alert firefighters.
“I saw smoke coming out of it, and I tried calling 911 for 20 minutes before someone finally answered,” said Ann Westbrook, who also lives near the building.
Fornell said because of the tremendous call volume today there were some delays.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's office sent out news release asking residents to only call 911 for emergency situations.
"Due to severe wind conditions, power outages have occurred for many residents and businesses," an email said. "Those experiencing power outages should report them to DTE Energy at 800-477-4747 and are asked to keep 911 open for emergencies requiring EMS, Police or Fire services."
Wind gusts topped more than 60 mph in the area Wednesday, making it difficult for firefighters to battle the fires.
Some 810,000 utility customers are without power in southeast Michigan, and that number could continue to rise.
DTE Energy is reporting nearly 550,000 customers without power in southeast Michigan as of 5 p.m., and Consumers Energy was reporting more than 260,000 customers without power statewide due to the wind earlier Wednesday.
The wind downed trees and power lines, caused traffic signals to malfunction, closed work places and contributed to traffic accidents. It has led to extensive tree damage and more than 2,000 downed wires so far, according to DTE Energy's update.
Contributing: Elisha Anderson
(© 2017 Detroit Free Press)