The response of the community to this tragedy was fast and overwhelming: individuals, community organizations local non profits like Neighbor Consejo collected clothes, furniture, medicine and money donations coming from neighbors and volunteers, who came even from the DC suburbs in order to help. The city government relocated most of the tenants in other apartment buildings in the area, spending over $275,000 dollars for that purpose.
A year later, the burned buildings are still damaged and unused, and a sign for a future condominium has been posted at 3145 Mt Pleasant St NW. See these photos I took last week:
In those days after the tragedy, I spent hours volunteering with Neighbor Consejo, and one afternoon I visited the families who were temporally staying at a hotel in SW, relocated with funds from the DC government. While being there I recorded some video interviews with the tenants. Unfortunately there were missing after I took them to the LAYC Media House. Somehow the videos couldn’t be transferred to my computer.
However I'd like to write today about the testimony of some neighbors I met back then. Most of them lost not only their homes, money and personal belongings, but also faith on justice and the city laws as they believed the fire was an arson provoked by their former landlord. This is a video of what happened that day:
Most of the victims are working class families and individuals, they were mixed Native American immigrants from Central America, Africans and African Americans in majority. Almost all of them told me their landlord wanted them to leave the property.
The building’s owner is Eric S. Kretschman, a businessman from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania who -some say- bought the Deauville building for $4 million dollars and got and insurance policy for a $30 million dollar before the fire occurred.
Kretschman had tried unsuccessfully to evict the Deauville tenants at least four times since 2002, in order to convert the building into luxury condominiums.
Eric Kretschman is a Republican and he is part of NWJ Companies and Olympus Capital Group, two main real state investment companies based in NYC and Philadelphia. He is also the Controller of Montgomery County, PA. "In this position, he has general supervision over all fiscal affairs for the county and of the accounts of all departments collecting, receiving or dispersing county funds." Also he is member of Montgomery County Community College's Board of Trustees in Pennsylvania, and he co-owns more than a thousand apartment buildings in the US Mid Atlantic region:
Also and most importantly, he is Partner and Managing Director of Olympus Capital Group, LLC, a Philadelphia-based investment firm specializing in the acquisition of multi-family real estate capital portfolios and their related investments. In his position, Kretschman oversees all portfolio acquisitions, including deal sourcing, negotiating, underwriting analysis, oversight of due diligence and closing. Among his many achievements, Kretschman was responsible for building a portfolio of more than 1,000 multi-family unit apartment properties throughout the Mid-Atlantic region with a value of more than $50 million.
Kretschman has also been involved in other stories of abuse and corruption in order to get his apartment buildings converted into expensive condos. During the fire, some neighbors tried to fight the flames but there weren’t enough extinguishers in the building.
Controversy at the DC Fire Department
Not only the fire at 3145 Mt Pleasant St NW is said to be an arson, but many have criticized the DC Fire Department response. Some victims complained to me of verbal mistreatment they received from firefighters after they tried to get them to stop the fire.
Witnesses noticed the firefighters stood in front of the building for several minutes watching the fire, and some went upstairs even though the fire started at the basement of the building, when some machinery caught fire.
A Youtube user has posted four raw videos of the response: "DC Fire Department delayed fighting the Mount Pleasant Fire. I recorded this shortly after the arrival of the first fire engines. The time code represents where my tape is at."
This wrong response was specifically denounced by DC Fire and EMS Captain Vanessa Coleman, who was part of the Engine Company 21 –which celebrated 100 years this past weekend- and who said that once in site she was re-directed to the third floor. This version is backed by recordings of the DCFD radio transmission.
Coleman was reassigned and ordered to submit to a mental evaluation, which she challenged in court with the support of the non-profit Government Accountability Project. Last month, a federal judge withheld such order.
Most recently, two DC firefighters have decided to file a suit against the city, after been reassigned by the DCFD when they reported a series of cover-ups in the investigations they followed on the Mount Pleasant apartment fire, among other possible arson cases.
D.C. Arson Investigators Greg Bowyer and Gerald Pennington say that after they informed the DCFD about a series of cover-ups and botched investigations, they were reassigned to checking fire hydrants and to handing out snacks to firefighters. (!)
The firefighters are accusing the DCFD of "abuse of authority, gross mismanagement, violation of laws and acts that endanger the public health and safety." And they are also including in their allegation a case of the fire that destroyed the historic Eastern Market in Capitol Hill, which they believe was not an accident.
More information may be posted later in this blog.