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Structure Unsound : Apartment Fire Leaves 33 Homeless

January 10, 1985|ADRIANNE GOODMAN | Times Staff Writer

A fire at a Santa Ana apartment building, apparently started by two children playing with matches, left at least 33 people homeless Wednesday after city inspectors found the building structurally unsound and ordered it evacuated, Fire Department officials said.

Although damage was confined to the bedroom and kitchen of one apartment of the five-unit building, Santa Ana housing officials, notified by the Fire Department of possible code infractions, ordered the building closed, said Acting Battalion Chief Steve Moore.

Luis and Gabriel Lopez, ages 4 and 5, who had been left alone for 10 minutes while their mother, Maria Lopez, went to a nearby grocery store, were rescued uninjured from a burning bedroom by their uncle, Jesus Vasquez, after he was awakened by smoke pouring into a front room, Moore said.

According to Moore, the two boys apparently were playing with the matches in the bedroom at the back of the apartment when the room caught fire.

Moore said there would be no investigation of the blaze.

The Fire Department was unable to determine the exact number of people displaced, but Red Cross official Scott Tokarzewski said his organization was providing temporary housing for 33 residents.

The homeless were mostly impoverished Latino families, some with young children, Red Cross officials said.

A Santa Ana fire unit on a practice run first noticed smoke billowing from a window of the building on South Sycamore Street at Bishop Street and saw Vasquez carrying the two boys from the building as the truck passed the two-story structure shortly after 8:00 a.m., Moore said.

Five units and 25 firefighters were eventually called in to battle the fire, which took 20 minutes to extinguish, Moore said.

Damage Put at $32,500 Damage, primarily from smoke, was estimated at $32,500, Moore said. Damage from flames was confined to a bedroom and kitchen of the apartment where the fire started, he said.

The building, a large house that had been converted into five apartments, sometimes housed 35 people or more, neighbors said.

Santa Ana code enforcement coordinator Rita Hardin said city inspectors late Wednesday found evidence of "a substantial degree of overcrowding," including people living in the garage, a kitchen area and in the basement, where residents "dug into the earth to expand the room and undermined the foundation of the house."

The building's problems are "symptomatic of conditions we find on an everyday basis," Hardin said. "I'm surprised that this doesn't happen more often with the alterations to electrical systems that we sometimes find."

Hardin said the building owner was cited in 1980 for failure to maintain the plumbing, electrical and structural systems, but the violations were subsequently corrected.

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