Frantic attempt to oust bedbugs goes up in flames

One woman's attempt to rid her apartment of bedbugs has resulted in a 48-unit complex being destroyed. Five were injured as a result of the blaze.

Steve Perez, Detroit News/AP
Detroit firefighters battle a three-alarm fire, Tuesday Nov. 3, 2015 on Detroit's west side. A woman has apologized for the massive fire that she and authorities said was accidentally started by her efforts to eradicate bedbugs from her apartment.

A fire that destroyed a 48-unit apartment complex in Detroit got started in an attempt to eradicate bedbugs. Five were injured in the blaze, including three firefighters.

Sherry Young, a resident of the now destroyed Ramblewood Apartments, apologized to firefighters for the massive fire that she said she accidentally started while trying to rid her apartment of bedbugs.

“I’m so sorry,” she said to The Associated Press between sobs. “I didn’t mean it. My neighbors ... everybody’s displaced because of me.”

Ms. Young told the Detroit Free Press that she had used rubbing alcohol to spray herself and scrub her apartment. She had turned on the stove and oven the day before in an attempt to kill the bedbugs, following advice given by a neighbor. The combination resulted in a devastating fire that quickly tore through the apartment and spread throughout the complex.

Young had been suffering from the infestation since January. She began to notice markings on her body and a neighbor had seen bedbugs in the complex before and identified them as bites. Attempts by an exterminator and an apartment complex employee had failed to rid the apartment of the nuisance. She told the AP she was in a “state of torment” from the bedbugs.

Heating the apartment with her oven and stove and cleaning it with rubbing alcohol was Young’s desperate attempt to rid the place of bugs. She bought 20 bottles of rubbing alcohol from Walmart, according to the Detroit Free Press, and slept in her car Monday night.

When she entered her apartment Tuesday, the walls were hot to the touch and she began cleaning the floor with rubbing alcohol one section at a time. When she was cleaning near the oven, she saw the alcohol catch fire.

“I didn’t know that the fumes were so ignitable,” she said in reference to the rubbing alcohol she put on herself. “I would not have doused myself before going into the apartment.”

Some residents are being moved to other units owned by Ramblewood's management, while others have received assistance from the Red Cross.

Two firefighters responding to the blaze were treated for smoke inhalation and a third was injured, but the department appears not to hold any ill will against the woman.

“There was no malicious intent there,” Fire Chief Charles Simms told the Associated Press.

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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