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East Valley Focus

Quake-Damaged Building Set Afire

November 16, 1994|ERROL A. COCKFIELD JR.

Arsonists started two fires in a vacant medical center in Mission Hills on Tuesday, causing extensive damage to two floors of the building and putting one firefighter in the hospital with minor injuries, Los Angeles Fire Department officials said.

There were no other injuries. The injured firefighter, whose name was not released, was taken to Holy Cross Medical Center and treated for heat exhaustion.

The fires, set about the same time on the second and fifth floors, caused serious structural damage to the Indian Hills Medical Center at 14935 Rinaldi St.

"Chances of two accidental fires starting on two different floors is not likely," Assistant Fire Chief John W. Callahan said. After examining both floors, the Fire Department's arson investigators concluded that both fires were set by unknown people who used combustible materials left in the building.

The fires began about 11:15 a.m., officials said. Ten engine companies and some 40 firefighters met thick, heavy smoke rising from both floors. They extinguished the fires within an hour and checked the entire building for flames that might have been overlooked.

The staircase on the east side of the building buckled from the intense heat and flames, Callahan said. By late Tuesday, officials had no dollar value on the damage and no information on the owner of the seven-story medical center, which was vacated after sustaining damage during the Jan. 17 Northridge earthquake. Squatters, reported to have been staying in the boarded-up building, were believed to have started the blaze after entering through a broken window, Callahan said.

Officials said they have had problems with squatters in buildings left vacant since the earthquake. "The key is to keep (buildings) secured and to keep people out of there," Callahan said.

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