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Power Off, Candles Blamed in Fatal Apartment Blaze

December 04, 1987|SANTIAGO O'DONNELL | Times Staff Writer

A fire blamed on candles used to light an inner-city apartment without electricity killed one woman and left another woman and her 3-year-old daughter critically burned. Expanded metal window screens trapped the three people early Thursday inside the back unit of a two-story apartment complex in the 300 block of W. 56th street, officials said.

Dedra Marshall and her daughter Drena suffered second- and third-degree burns and were in critical but stable condition at County-USC Medical Center, after being transferred from Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center. The woman who was killed did not live in the apartment and could not be immediately identified by the coroner's office, a spokesman said.

The blaze broke out at 3:25 a.m. in the low-income neighborhood south of downtown. It was put out in 13 minutes by firefighters using power saws to cut through the metal screens and iron bars that were protecting the property.

The iron bars had the "quick-release" mechanism required by a 1985 fire safety city ordinance--but not the expanded metal screens.

"They defeated the purpose by installing the quick release bars (without removing the metal windows)," said Inspector Wiley L. Conley from the Department of Building and Safety, as he surveyed the damage.

According to a 1984 survey, as many as 85,000 dwellings in the city had burglary bars in violation of the ordinance. Officials Thursday said there are no more recent statistics.

Jim Derry, a spokesman for the City Department of Water and Power, said electricity was shut off on Nov. 5 after a 60-day wait for payment of a delinquent bill.

"The electricity was cut off because (Marshall) did not contact us to work out a payment schedule or some kind of arrangement," said Derry. "In these situations we always hand-deliver a letter urging the costumer to contact us, explain the situation, and we find the way to reach an agreement. Since (Marshall) did not contact us, we had no idea if she was even living there anymore."

Fire Department spokeswoman Bernadette Pelletier said she did not know precisely how the candles started the fire.

A few hours after the fire, the charred unit was unoccupied, unguarded, its doors unlocked and clothes still hanging in the closet.

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