Investigation of Devastating Fire Started in the 1600 block of Isherwood Street, NE Ruled a Suicide


From MPD:

“The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) announced today the fire that occurred in the 1600 block of Isherwood Street, NE was intentionally set by the decedent and the manner of death has been ruled a suicide.

On Wednesday June 4, 2014, at approximately 3:54 pm, personnel from the DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services (DCFEMS) received a report of an explosion and fire at an apartment building located in the 1600 block of Isherwood Street, Northeast. Upon arrival, firefighters found an apartment building ablaze. During firefighting activities, firefighters observed a deceased person in one of the units.

The case was investigated by members of the Arson and Explosives Task Force, which includes members from MPD, DCFEMS and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

The investigation has determined that the fire was intentionally set by the decedent identified as 46 year-old Christopher Christofi of Northeast, Washington, DC. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has ruled that the decedent’s death was a suicide.”

62 Comment

  • Incredibly sad and shocking. I know two families who were displaced and may be looking at life in the DC General homeless shelter…and pets were killed, too.

  • I am amazed. I thought this guy was an animal lover. Why would he do such an awful thing to his animals (and to other people’s animals)? I get depression. It’s a tragedy whenever anyone kills himself. However, there is no need to kill others when you’re doing it. I’m angry at his actions. The animals suffered an unbelievably agonizing death if you listen to the bystanders who witnessed it. Struggling to come up with any sympathy.

    • Suicide is always a despicably selfish act.

      • No it isn’t. Don’t speak in absolutes. Being a scold doesn’t assist the depressed (who feel worthless) and ignores the terminally ill.

        Setting fire to commit suicide is selfish.

    • Agreed. Here I was beating myself up for being sad about the animals when a human had died as well, but maybe the pets and other residents deserve more sympathy.

    • As an animal lover, and also someone who dislikes selfish behavior, I’m tending to side with you, but I’m withholding judgement until more details come out. Did he commit suicide by setting himself on fire indoors? Or was the fire set accidentally as a result of the suicide (perhaps by a self inflicted gunshot that caused him to fall on the cord of an iron that he forgot to unplug before ending his life, for example)?
      I am purely speculating, but I would just naturally imagine that setting oneself on fire inside your own home would not be a solid choice for a suicidal person. I could, however, imagine any variety of suicide methods that might result in a subsequent fire.

      • Ok, but the release does say that the fire was intentionally set. So rather than caused by a bizarre coincidence (tripping over an accidentally-plugged-in-iron-cord after shooting himself, seriously?) the release is pretty clear about what happened.

      • Well, according to NBC, he started by pouring gasoline, so…

      • “I would just naturally imagine that setting oneself on fire inside your own home would not be a solid choice for a suicidal person”
        I think a suicidal person is long past the point of making “solid choices”. Seems like your imagination isn’t big enough to cover the grim realities of a suicidal mind (not that it’s something you should wish for.)

      • who irons before killing themselves? I hate ironing. It certainly wouldn’t be my last act.

  • Very very sad news.
    I wonder how officials made the determination that it was intentionally set and by whom- especially since it seems the evidence would be destroyed in the fire.

    • I’m no expert- but watching (probably) thousands of hours of Forensic Files and other forensic science shows has taught me that while fire will destroy some evidence, it also creates evidence. They may have found evidence of a pour pattern indicating an accelerant and tied it to a gas station purchase. I don’t know- i don’t know if they’ll ever share (or even should share) but science is fascinating. There’s an episode about the DC arsonist a few years ago and it was amazing.

      This whole incident is so upsetting. My heart (and money) is going out to the woman who lost her two pets and the displaced Maury School families. If you haven’t already donated to them- i encourage you to!

  • Is there any explanation as to what caused the explosion resulting in 30 people being left homeless and the deaths of numerous animals? The condos did not receive gas so did the fire breach gas lines of neighboring homes? Wasn’t there testimony from witnesses who saw Chris trying to escape?

    It seems suspicious that this is the only result an investigation reaches with multiple federal agencies involved.

    • He might have been trying to “escape” because that would be a normal reaction of the human body if it was subjected to fire the way he was (along with his dog). When I heard he had come home from work early on a Wednesday, the thought of suicide crossed my mind. That said, I’d love to know what he used to make such an explosion. Also, I’d like to know if there were other signs- was this a total suprise to his closest friends and family? Regardless, involving other people (anyone could have been home that day) and innocent animals is one of the most selfish, bastard-like things to do. If you’re going to kill yourself, do it without hurting others if you absolutely need to do it.

      • Or could have been pretending to escape so it didn’t look like a suicide?

      • FYI: From NBC4: “Sources told News4 that Christofi bought gasoline prior to the fire and spread it throughout the building in the 1600 block of Isherwood Street.”

    • This was exactly my thought too. I have a lot of questions about the results of this investigation.

    • jim_ed

      Out of curiosity, what reason would the investigators have to cover up the true cause of death? Maybe in their investigation they became privy to information that clearly indicated suicide that hasn’t been made public? Isn’t that how almost all death investigations go?

    • NBC 4 is reporting he bought gasoline before the fire and they believe he spread it throughout the building. Makes no sense to me either.

  • anonymouse_dianne

    I find this very difficult to believe. He did not have gas coming into his unit, so how did he set a fire? Strikes me as laziness on the part of the investigators. Many eyewitnesses said he tried to escape.

    • So despite having far less expertise and far less access to crucial information, you have come to the conclusion that the investigators are lazy and just didn’t feel like really figuring it out? And your main argument is that he couldn’t have started the fire since he didn’t have natural gas piped in to the residence? I don’t understand people sometimes.

      • Yeah, weird logic. Although I could see it being a cover-up if it was due to property owner negligence and the property owner was able to bribe them. That kind of stuff happens sometimes.

    • No (natural) gas like what is used to heat homes and power stoves. They’re saying he bought gasoline- what you put in cars. Two different forms of gas.

  • This incident got me wondering… is there anything we pet owners can do to decrease the likelihood of our animals dying in a house fire? That’s one of my worst fears. That they’d be trapped in the kitchen while I’m at work, with no way of escaping or alerting anyone.

    • You can put a sticker on your door notifying the fire department that you have pets and indicating what they are. I remember years ago a huge fire in the apartment building at the corner of Calvert and Adams Mill in AdMo, and they had managed to rescue, I think, all the pets that lived there.

      • For apartment/condo dwellers – would you put this on the door to the unit (off the hallway?). I’ve seen the stickers on windows before but I’m on the 7th floor so guessing no one’s looking there.

    • A friend of mine has some kind of sticker/decal on her door (or maybe it’s the glass next to the door) that says something like “Fire Dept.: Note that there are three dogs inside.”

    • Yeah, I should get a sticker (though I’d be suprised if the firefighters would notice it in the midst of all the chaos). Any other ideas?

      • epric002

        i also have the sticker on my front door (good reminder to put one on my back and basement doors too). do you have a home alarm? i should probably call to verify, but i’m pretty sure ADT knows that i have a dog, and would hope they would communicate that to the responders if the alarm system registered the fire. letting your neighbors know that you have animals might also be helpful, so they could alert the first responders if they happened to be around and you weren’t.

        • I do have ADT but don’t recall giving them info about my pets. I’ll definitely look into that. And yeah, I would hope that my retired neighbors next door would be there and would tell them about our dogs.

      • Actually, the firefighters deliberately look for these types of stickers in the chaos, so yes, put them everywhere, and keep them accurate to the number of pets you have and make sure that part that you write on doesn’t fade. If it says you have two cats and a dog inside, the firefighters will search for two cats and a dog as long as it’s safe for them to do so. However, if you adopted a second dog a year ago and forgot to update the sticker, once they’ve found two cats and one of the dogs, they will stop looking and your second dog might not be rescued. So keep them up to date! New pet = new sticker. Similarly, if you no longer have a pet, change the sticker. You don’t want a firefighter risking his or her life looking for a cat or dog that passed away last January from some unrelated illness.

    • As a firefighter, I can mention that those stickers aren’t nearly as useful as you may imagine. Most importantly, put them right at eye level – on the door itself right above the knob is the best place. We aren’t going to be looking down along the ground to see it hidden away there, and the first units inside the house may not be going to the windows to look inside or notice. Too many people hide them away so they aren’t an eyesore. If you want us to see them, make them visible enough that everyone notices.

      Secondly – if a call is made that the structure is too safe to enter, a sticker won’t help anything. Luckily for most of you, DCFD and PGFD are some of the more aggressive interior firefighting operations in the area – they will make entry into houses that many other departments wouldn’t. If they notice the sticker (see the first point), they’ll be on the lookout.

      Even if they do notice the sticker and can make entry, it’s not all roses. Animals have fragile respiratory systems, and are great at hiding in places we can’t feel (because you really can’t see anything). More often than not, they’ll go right to their favorite corner or nook or the middle of under the bed, and the chance of finding them there is pretty slim.

      Only way you can legitimately give them a chance is to either keep them outside or have an animal door that they can use to get outside themselves. Otherwise, it’s all a crap-shoot.

      • epric002

        thanks for chiming in. will DCFD make a note if pets are reported to them by address? a colleague mentioned that when he had his ill, elderly mother living with him he reported that to his fire station and they noted it, and thought they might do the same for pets. just curious, thanks!

        • Firefighter above. I’m not DCFD (in another city to our north), but I can safely guess that won’t work. The listing of the sick person will generally go into the EMS logs and be flagged that way – for either fire or medical emergency. EMS doesn’t care about dogs, only humans. You can try and let the firehouse know directly, but I think DC runs 3 or 4 shifts, and if that engine is out and another one is first due, it won’t help you any. Make sure your neighbors know, and they can let the first arriving firefighters know.

      • Appreciate the feedback from DCFD! Very helpful, especially the part about sticker placement.

        As a small aside, keeping outdoor pets may not be the best option either (for the pets, not to mention for songbirds) unless they are really secured and can be kept away from other animals and inclement weather. I adopted two cats from the humane society who are FIV-positive. FIV is a direct result of them having been outdoor cats prior to my getting them. One’s now developed cancer, and that’s extra hard to treat since she has a compromised immune system. Not to soapbox, just something to keep in mind when deciding on indoors or outdoors for your pets.

        • epric002

          thanks for the reminder ally. keeping animals outdoors is likely more dangerous than keeping them indoors. inclement weather, other animals, and terrible people can make being unsupervised outdoors very risky.

        • justinbc

          When we got home Friday night, around 1-2AM, we found a cat with tags sitting on our front door. It was very well behaved, and having tags, clearly belonged to someone, so I called the number to alert the person their cat had escaped and where he could be found at the time. I also texted her after getting just voicemail. She responded about half an hour later with “Thanks! He’s an outdoor cat!” I didn’t even realize people purposely did this in dense neighborhood areas, seems quite dangerous.

          • The cat could have lived somewhere else previously– it’s hard to turn an outdoor cat into an indoor one. Also, some cats never acclimate to being indoors, even if you try to raise them that way from kittenhood. Mine would have torn my house to shreds if I hadn’t relented and let him out.
            I’m surprised this is your first time seeing a pet cat walking around though. My neighborhood has several and I always enjoy seeing them around.

          • A neighbor of mine around Capitol Hill East has 3 or 4 cats with collars who are outdoor cats. She clearly cares about them (there was a fire next door and she dutifully had them all in their carrying cases), and she clearly is a decent person (she’s very nice and always speaks when you see her on the street), but she still has those cats outdoors. I don’t know her well enough to say anything about it without appearing like a know-it-all, rude neighbor.

            One of the cats went missing a few months back (and thankfully turned up!). I’d hoped that that scare (in addition to all the other pitfalls for outdoor cats) would have been enough to have her keep them inside. It certainly would have been enough for me.

            So, polling the audience, how many of you would say something to her vs letting it go? I know a number of family’s (my boyfriend’s included) who just simply grew up with outdoor pets. My boyfriend’s family stopped that when one pet got hit by a car and another got FIV.

          • Oh, and for Anonymous 3:54: Mine were both outdoor cats before I adopted them. My male cat LOVES the outdoors, so I take him on supervised visits outside in my fenced-in back yard. Protects him and protects the songbirds. If I didn’t have a fence, I’d let him out on a leash. So, there’s some middle ground there.

            Gee, I think I’ve been watching too much Jackson Galaxy.

          • Er, what would you say exactly? Sounds like she’s giving them a good life and has probably weighed the pros and cons of letting them outside. I’m sure she knows more about her cats than you do and has come up with a living scenario that works best for them, despite the risks.
            Or you can take the passive aggressive approach and slip literature in her mail slot. Maybe that will shame her into locking them up inside.

          • Ally, your cat is a lot more complacent than mine! Mine refused to go out on a leash and would not be contained by a fence.

          • Justin — Good on you for alerting the cat’s owner… who probably ought to add or change the tag to say “IND/OUT CAT” or something to indicate that the cat isn’t a lost indoor cat!
            Ally — I’d resist the urge to say anything to your neighbor about her outdoor cats. Though your intentions are good, it would likely come across as interfering, and (strictly speaking) it’s not your business.

          • Yeah, I agree with not saying anything. She’s been a good neighbor for going on 4 years. Not my place to say anything.

          • justinbc

            @Textdoc, yeah, I know if I had a pet like that I would definitely put some alert on the tags to keep people like me from constantly calling to “help”. We had an ID/OD cat when I was growing up, he was a master outdoor killer, but that was in Charlotte in a pretty isolated suburban environment. I can’t imagine letting him out here in Capitol Hill, but hey, whatever works with you and your animal.

      • Thanks for the response. I was thinking a doggy door might be a good solution.

      • Is it right that ordinary gasoline, when set on fire, would cause an explosion like the one that occurred at 1603 Isherwood NE? I wasn’t home but the explosion left pieces of iron lodged in my house across the alley and knocked things off the wall.

        • WIthout getting too technical, it depends on the amount of vapors, the amount of oxygen, and how it was lit. Look at the MSDS for gasoline –

          The flash point (temperature at which it gives off enough vapors for a flash fire) is negative 45 degrees F, while the autoignition (point at which the entire material can ignite at once is only 530 degrees F. Upper explosive limit and lower explosive limit have a pretty small range, but it is at the lower end of the scale.

          So, in other words, yes. Splash enough around and the vapors can start to build. If no one was there he could not only do his apartment, but the common areas as well. Keep the windows open for oxygen and it’s pretty likely it will reach the explosive range of 1.6 to 7.3% easily. As the house was well warmer than negative 45 degrees F, it will be building up fumes the entire time. Manage to ignite some, and the temp will rapidly build, resulting in the entire fume cloud igniting almost at once. Big bang, stuff goes everywhere.

    • Fill out a Smart911 profile. It will come up automatically on the dispatcher’s computer when you call 911. My family’s profile includes pictures of myself, my husband, our kid, our dog and our cat – along with where in the condo each of us (including the pets) sleeps, and the best way to access that part of the building (e.g. fire escape at the back of the building, stairs at the front, etc).

      • epric002

        i didn’t know about this! does it only work if you call from a registered phone #, or will first responders have access to the info no matter how they respond to a registered address?

      • Great advice on the Smart911 profile! It is free and there was a section for info on pets, including pictures and i slipped in my dogs favorite hiding space in case of an emergency.

  • Unbelievable. I live about a block away on Isherwood. He must have bought A LOT of gasoline! I mean, it literally blew the front door across the street. In any case, this is terrible all the way around. He’s dead, animals are dead, his family is left holding the bag, a lot of other families have been displaced, and the neighborhood has 3 vacant, burned out apartment buildings to live next door to for who knows how long. It just sucks…

  • This was obviously a false flag operation by PETA to distract us from Benghazi, the VA crisis, and the imminent U.S. alliance with Iran.

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