Two separate fires left one person seriously injured and 21 others without a roof over their heads. The common culprit — a lack of fire alarms, a problem that last year turned deadly across the San Fernando Valley and the rest of Los Angeles.
Three families, including nine adults, 12 children and a dog, were displaced Saturday, Jan 3, after a fire ripped through a Pacoima home. Los Angeles Fire Department firefighters responded to the home in the 13000 block of Kelowna Street around 5 a.m.
When they arrived, firefighters could see large flames coming from the rear of the house where three additional bedrooms had been added to the 1,000-square feet structure. Those bedrooms, said LAFD Capt. David Marino, were crammed with clothes, beds and other furniture that added fuel to the flames and made it very difficult for the firefighters to battle the blaze.
“There were no functional smoke alarms found inside the home,” said Erik Scott, LAFD spokesman.
“How these people survived without a working smoke alarm is something I can’t tell. They’re very, very lucky,” added Marino.
The home was declared unsuitable for habitation. Large holes were visible on the ceiling at several places. The stove, refrigerator and cabinets in the kitchen were burned and blackened, as was a couch and walls throughout the living room. Only a bedroom was left intact, although filled with smoke.
An image of the Virgen de Guadalupe next to the front door survived, but was covered in soot.
“The poor families lost everything,” Scott said. “The vast majority of their belongings got destroyed.”
Burned mattresses, clothes, furniture and other debris littered the backyard afterwards.
Scott said firefighters encountered the 21 people shivering in front of their home upon their arrival. They brought in coffee, snacks and blankets and later took them by ambulance to a local fire station while Red Cross officials helped them secure a temporary place to stay.
“We put on cartoons on a big screen to keep the kids entertained, and a bunch of firefighters brought doughnuts for the family,” Scott added.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Fire Injury In Van Nuys
On Sunday afternoon, Jan. 4, another fire severely damaged a home in the 6700 block of Gaviota Avenue in Van Nuys, where a 56-year-old man suffered second degree burns to his feet and chest.
Investigators said the cause of the fire was a faulty fireplace. And, like the Pacoima fire, there were no working smoke alarms in the structures, according to firefighters.
The second floor of the home was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived around 3:12 p.m. It took them 25 minutes to put down the flames. The estimated cost of the damages to the home were around $116,000 — $75,000 to the structure, $40,000 to its contents and another $1,000 to the eaves of a neighboring home.
The injured man was sleeping when the fire started. He was reported to be in fair condition at the hospital.
Last year, almost 20 people lost their lives in fires in the City of Los Angeles. At least seven of them lived in the San Fernando Valley including a couple and their two young children who lived in a converted barn structure in Sylmar, an older mother and son who lived in an apartment in Encino, and a man who lived in a converted garage in Winnetka.
In all these instances, and in the majority of the fatal cases, the Los Angeles Fire Department found no working alarms inside the residences, Scott said.
Campaign For Smoke Alarms
After a string of incidents early last year, LAFD and the City of Los Angeles began an aggressive campaign to let people know about the importance of having smoke alarms.
“We’re telling people on radio, social media and we’re knocking on doors and handing them (smoke alarms) out,” Scott said.
Indeed, several firefighters went door-to-door along the 13000 block of Kelowna Street on Saturday, asking neighbors if they had smoke alarms. Those who didn’t were given one or more, depending on the size of their homes.
“This can mean the difference between life and death,” Scott emphasized.
Jarrett Barrios, CEO, American Red Cross/Los Angeles Region, said the organization has also begun a campaign to curb deadly fires.
“Our work doesn’t end after the smoke clears — every day local volunteers are helping people to recover and get better prepared,” Barrios said in a statement.
In the first 11 months of 2014, the American Red Cross/Los Angeles Region helped more people affected by home fires than all other disasters combined. Local volunteers worked around-the-clock to provide assistance to more than 1,727 victims of home fires with food, blankets and comfort when they had nowhere else to turn.
In addition, the Red Cross provided financial support to 472 local households in the aftermath of home fires to help replace lost belongings and begin the long road to recovery.
Because of the high number of home fires in this country, the Red Cross launched a 2014 campaign to reduce the number of home fire deaths and injuries by 25 percent over the next five years. The organization is asking every household in America to take two simple steps: check their existing smoke alarms and practice fire drills at home.
Since the campaign launched in October, the Red Cross/Los Angeles Region — in partnership with fire departments and community groups — reached 336 people and installed 177 free smoke alarms in high-risk neighborhoods in South L.A. and Long Beach.