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Person of interest questioned in apartment fire that killed 5 on Detroit's east side

5 killed, more injured in massive fire at apartment building

DETROIT – A person of interest has been detained for questioning Wednesday in connection to an apartment fire that killed five people on Detroit's east side, police said.

The person of interest has not been charged because there's no proof of a crime, police said. He's being questioned by police officers and fire arson task force members.

Five people were killed and at least four others were injured Wednesday in the massive fire at an apartment building at Whittier Avenue and Greensboro Street.

Police said the fire started on the rear of the second floor around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. High winds helped it grow so quickly that the people inside couldn't get out fast enough.

Eight units in the apartment building were engulfed by the fire.

"It's like when you light a fireplace and you use the bellows and the fire blows up," Detroit Fire Department Deputy Commissioner Dave Fornell said. "So we've got these high winds, and it just drove the fire right through the building."

Four victims were taken to St. John Hospital with burns and injuries from smoke inhalation, officials said. A 52-year-old woman and a 70-year-old man were treated for smoke inhalation and released, police said. A 56-year-old man is in serious condition with lacerations and smoke inhalation. A 67-year-old man is in critical condition with second-degree burns.

One of the five victims killed in the fire died at the hospital. The other four people who were killed never made it out of the building, officials said.

Firefighters couldn't reach the apartments initially because of the wall of flames and smoke.

"They were trying to get in that building and it was like into the mouth of the dragon," Fornell said. "It was just tremendously hot and heavy smoke and it was just very horrible to go into."

Fornell said it was a difficult fire to fight because the smoke was down to the street and the flames were coming over the firefighters trying to get into the front door.

Half an hour after the fire was under control, a neighbor ran out to tell firefighters his house was on fire. The garage of the house burned, but there were no injuries.

Local 4 has learned that the apartment building is a group home of some kind, so the tenants are living with disabilities.

A man who lives at the apartment complex said he was shocked when he came home to find the apartment building destroyed.

"I don't know where I'm going to go," he said. "I don't have a place to go. I'm homeless now, like I've always been."

A witness said for a while there was mostly just smoke.

"My neighbor was actually, she had actually went and was knocking on the doors and the windows in the back, trying to alert to the people that live there that there was a fire going," Ann Westbrook said. "Whoever it was that broke the window and jumped out, whoever that first person was, once they broke that window, it's like everything ... just swept through."

The deputy chief said wind feeding flames and enlarging a fire isn't uncommon.

Stay with ClickOnDetroit.com for updates.