UPPER MARLBORO, Md. - A 26-year-old Maryland woman is behind bars after she is accused of setting a fire at the restaurant where she used to work.
Jessica Poole, a married mother of two, was a former employee at Al’s Country Kitchen on Main Street in Upper Marlboro. She was well-known and well-liked among many of the customers and staff, but had recently been fired. However, investigators say Poole intentionally caused the three-alarm fire that tore through the three-story building early Thursday morning where the restaurant, other businesses and several apartment units were housed.
Poole is now facing several charges for arson and reckless endangerment.
The residents who live above the restaurant said they are lucky to be alive. Ricky Turcios believes he probably lost everything in the blaze.
"I felt the heat,” he said. “I couldn't see it because of all the smoke and I couldn't breathe, but I felt it. I was scared. I really was scared.”
Turcios credits his neighbor Toni with saving his life. She pounded on his door when the restaurant below caught fire in the middle of the night.
"She spotted the fire and she wasn't just going to leave me in there,” said Turcios. “So I'm glad she banged on my door and woke me up. I really am."
Turcios tried getting out the front door, but it was so filled with smoke that he couldn't see or breathe. Instead, he escaped to the roof where firefighters rescued him with a ladder.
"I got out with just a white t-shirt and sweatpants,” he said. “No shoes or socks – nothing. I ain't have nothing. I just have my cell phone and that's it. My wallet and everything is in there."
Just one day later, Turcios was back at work at the 7-Eleven store across the street. His friends have loaned him clothes while the American Red Cross is offering him temporary housing. There is also a donation box at the counter of the 7-Eleven store.
With the building deemed unsafe, Turcios doesn't know if he has any possessions left. However, he is counting his blessings that he made it out with his life.
"We could have died,” he said. “I barely made it out.”
The huge blaze caused an estimated $250,000 in damage.