Fire raged through a 19th-floor condominium in a Century City high-rise on Tuesday, killing two people, injuring seven others and forcing about 250 residents to flee in their nightclothes.
Six Beverly Hills police officers, responding to a pre-dawn call reporting a woman screaming at an address near the Los Angeles city line, crossed into Los Angeles and scrambled up 18 flights of stairs to lead and carry several infirm residents--some in wheelchairs--to safety.
"One of the officers grabbed a hose and tried to fight the fire," Beverly Hills Police Lt. Frank Salcido said. "The others went from room to room, banging on doors to wake up the occupants. . . . One officer carried an elderly woman down the stairs in his arms."
Christine Briggs, 22, who lives in a condominium next to Unit 1904, where the two people died, said that as she and her roommate, attorney Henry Cowan, hurried down the stairs, they met Los Angeles firefighters--summoned by the Beverly Hills police--on their way up.
"We told them the fire was on the 19th floor, so they just kept on going," Briggs said.
Firefighters found the body of a man beneath smoldering debris in a bathtub in Unit 1904. The body of another person--too charred to determine age or sex--was found in a bedroom. The coroner's office was attempting to identify both victims.
Fire officials said it took about 50 minutes to quell the blaze at the 20-story building at 2170 Century Park East. Despite a lack of fixed sprinklers, the fire was confined to Unit 1904, although there was some smoke damage on the floor above and water damage to the floor below. The cause of the blaze was not immediately determined, officials said.
Fire Department officials, who said that sprinkler systems might have saved lives and reduced damage, expressed hope Tuesday that the Los Angeles City Council will soon enact an ordinance that would make such systems mandatory in residential buildings.
Opponents argue that the cost of installing such systems would lead to rent increases that would put thousands of low- and middle-income tenants out on the streets.
Two elderly residents, a man and woman evacuated from the building, were treated at Century City Community Hospital for medical problems aggravated by the fire.
Five of the six Beverly Hills police officers who dashed up the stairs to help evacuate the building were later treated at the UCLA Medical Center for smoke inhalation.
"We don't feel like we were heroes in any respect," one of the Beverly Hills officers, Brad Cornelius, said later. "It was just a job that needed to be done."
Salcido said Beverly Hills police received a 911 call at 1:43 a.m. from a resident on Shirley Place, just inside the Beverly Hills line. The resident reported hearing a woman's screams.
Officer David Armour, 32, was the first to respond to the call.
"Armour didn't spot the woman, but he did see the flames and fire coming from the top of the building on Century Park East," Salcido said. Armour called for backup police help and asked that the Los Angeles Fire Department be notified.
Beverly Hills police officers got there first.
Following standard procedure for high-rise fires, elevator service was shut down to help prevent the spread of the blaze through the shafts. Six officers--Robert Bloore, 32; Kyle Batty, 31; John Crawford, 40; Marcello Rodriguez, 23; Cornelius, 32, and Armour--began the arduous climb to the upper floors.
At a news conference later in the day at the Beverly Hills Police Department, Batty said a resident on his way down the stairs said something about an elderly woman on one of the upper floors who was unable to walk.
He found the woman in her condominium.
"I said, 'You have to go,' " Batty recalled. "She said, 'I can't.' So I picked her up." Batty said he carried the woman to safety in his arms.
Cornelius said that he and three other officers encountered two invalid residents on a landing.
"We had to physically carry those people all the way down from the 16th floor in their wheelchairs," Cornelius said. "It was a pretty good workout."
Firefighters, many burdened with heavy equipment, followed the officers up the stairs. While some battled the flames, others helped awaken residents and led them down and out of the building.
Phyllis Goldberg, who lives in a unit next to the one that burned, said she awoke to "a lot of noise. . . .
"I thought those damned people on the floor above me were moving furniture in the middle of the night," said Goldberg. "Then I realized I could hear the alarm. Someone was banging on the door, yelling, 'Get up! Get up!' It was a fireman and some other man. I was in my nightclothes so I told them, 'I can't go out dressed like this.' I grabbed a robe and we went."
Goldberg, who said she is "over 50," said "the hardest part was having to walk down 19 floors."
Jackie Shannon, another resident of the building, said her main concern as she descended the stairs was that smoke might spread downward from the condominium and hallways on the 19th floor.