Federal and local arson investigators want to know if a house fire that nearly killed a four-year-old girl over the weekend was intentionally set.
The house in the 2600 block of 33rd Street in the Hillcrest section of Southeast D.C. is being treated as a potential crime scene.
ATF agents are working alongside D.C. fire investigators. That is because D.C. police officers were at the house in the early hours Sunday morning right before it went up in flames, dealing with the irate owner who lived in the basement and was fighting with relatives who lived upstairs.
"He was kicking and screaming at the woman," says Michael McFadyen, who lives across the street. "She was saying 'Save my babies.' The police officers on the scene sort of helped each other up, get in the second floor and saved the little boy. They got him out. And that was before the fire department got here. And then right after that, the house just went up. It was horrible. I mean, the flames were just everywhere."
Still trapped inside was the four-year-old, found unconscious and overcome by smoke.
"She's in a medically induced coma right now," says family friend Morgan Ford. "They're monitoring her brain activity. Right now, we just want everybody to pray for her and pray for her recovery, and we're all just hoping for a complete recovery from her."
In the meantime, 46-year-old Jerome Lewis is charged with simple assault and felony threats. He is not charged with setting the fire, which apparently started in the basement.
"Still under investigation," says AFT Special Agent Steve Avato, who was at the scene Monday afternoon. "The cause and origin of the fire is still under investigation."
We are told this same house was destroyed by fire 15 years ago.
Jerome Lewis was not living there at the time. His brother, Stephen Gill, spoke with investigators Monday and to FOX 5 News afterward.
"I don't think it's in his nature to deliberately do something like that," Gill says when asked whether he thinks his brother could have set the fire. "I do question what was going on that would cause this fire since this house has been rebuilt again and everything should have been up to code."