Arson Suspected In Rhode Island Apartment Fire

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Police have charged a 47-year-old woman with setting a fire at a high-rise apartment complex where she lives a blaze that spurred dramatic rescues by firefighters of panicked people leaning out of windows.

The early morning fire caused more than 75 people of Charles Place Apartments to be evacuated. Four residents were taken to the hospital with minor injuries due to smoke inhalation.

Debra Pashley was charged with first-degree arson after making a statement to police.

According to a police report, Pashley ignited a couch next to the elevators in a sixth-floor common area. The couch had been discarded into the common area by another resident of the same floor at about 5:30 a.m., about an hour before the fire was reported.

Assistant Fire Chief Michael Dillon said the woman was taken into custody based on evidence at the scene and interviews with residents at the complex.

The fire at apartment building on Charles Street began around 6:30 a.m. Motorists on nearby Route 146 saw thick, black smoke pouring from the building, and called the fire department.

Besides those taken to the hospital, Dillon said 10 people were treated on the scene.

Fire Chief David Costa said the blaze was contained to the hallway area. The burning couch caused heavy smoke damage throughout the sixth floor. Dillon described the smoke as ``almost petroleum-like.''

Five rectangular windows were burned out, and black, charred marks could be seen on the concrete around the windows and on the side of the building.

Some people had to be rescued by firefighters on ladders, including a woman who was pulled to safety as she clutched her baby and leaned out a sixth-floor window, Dillon said.

``It was very intense in the first few minutes of this fire,'' he said.

All of those displaced - except the sixth-floor residents - were expected to be able to return to their apartments later Tuesday.

The Rhode Island chapter of the American Red Cross was arranging hotel rooms for about 20 sixth-floor residents, said Norman Menard, the chapter's deputy director of emergency services.

Norman Hardy, a 67-year-old who lives on the first floor of the complex, said the woman in custody lives on the sixth floor of the building. He said he's seen her in the past being disruptive, including tipping signs as she walked down the hallways.

``She's a crackpot,'' he said.