A Prince George's County fire that destroyed a four-story apartment building -- taking the life of a one-year-old girl, and the homes of 46 other people -- was deliberately set, possibly with a firebomb, authorities said yesterday.
More than 100 firefighters battled the three-alarm blaze on Marlboro Pike, in the Hillside community, which was reported shortly after 10 p.m. Saturday and declared under control 45 minutes later.
"We are outraged that someone would commit this act," said Fire Chief Jim Estepp.
"It is one of the most horrendous fires that I have seen."
Chief Estepp said many residents helped neighbors escape as flames engulfed the building. Five firefighters and three apartment residents were injured -- only one of them seriously.
"It is miraculous that we didn't have many more serious injuries," he said. "Fire was leapfrogging across the building and was through the roof by the time the first firefighters arrived."
Pete Piringer, a fire department spokesman, would not elaborate on the cause of the fire, only to say that a firebombing was being investigated. He would not say what evidence was found.
He said the fire began in Apartment 103, where firefighters found one-year-old Vaniue Zamba dead in her bedroom. Her brother, Tungi Zamba, 3, who was rescued by neighbors, suffered second-degree burns on his face. He was listed in serious condition last night at the Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly.
The children's parents were not home when the fire broke out, but Mr. Piringer said a 38-year-old woman was staying with them. She was not seriously injured.
All of the injured firefighters were released after treatment at area hospitals for smoke inhalation or burns to their feet and legs.
Chief Estepp said fire and police officials were investigating the blaze, which was being treated as a homicide case.
"We will work around the clock to find the person responsible," he said.
Mr. Piringer said the apartment complex was built before stringent fire codes went into effect, so sprinklers throughout were not required.
He said it could not be determined immediately whether the building's central fire alarm system worked properly, but that it passed inspection in a routine check in November.