Richmond, Virginia, Crews Assess Fire Damage

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Firefighters poured water on the remains of a smoldering downtown building Saturday, a day after wind-whipped flames destroyed or damaged nearly two dozen structures.

Firefighters had stayed on the scene overnight to douse hot spots, said Lt. Keith Vida of the Richmond Fire Department.

A woman died when the power company shut down electricity to help firefighters contain the blaze. She went into cardiac arrest after her oxygen tank quit, said Assistant Fire Marshal Lt. Ronald Faulconer. Marian Jackson died Friday at VCU Medical Center.

The blaze apparently started shortly after midday Friday at a partially completed apartment building on Broad Street, the city's main downtown thoroughfare, near the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. Winds gusting to nearly 20 mph blew burning debris onto other buildings over an eight-block area about a mile west of the state Capitol.

Mayor Rudolph C. McCollum said at least 19 buildings and 20 vehicles were damaged. He called it the city's worst blaze in 30 years.

Faulconer said he did not believe the blaze was intentionally set, but said an investigation was ongoing. Early reports blamed human error, possibly from a cigarette butt or a torch left in a flammable spot by a construction worker.

City Manager Calvin Jamison said the fire caused an estimated $20 million in damage. He expected the city's overtime costs for 200 workers to reach $300,000.

Fire crews escorted residents back to their homes Friday night to retrieve belongings. ``Many buildings are still very unstable,'' Vida said.

Several downtown blocks remained closed to traffic as fire officials assessed damage. Utility crews were checking whether it was safe to restore electricity.

Two firefighters and a Virginia Commonwealth University security guard suffered minor smoke inhalation, officials said.