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No Home for Holidays

Residents Search for Belongings in Rubble of Burned Apartments


NORTH HOLLYWOOD — Home was a Red Cross shelter in a school gymnasium for Maria Elena Diaz and 15 others after a fire extensively damaged their apartment building.

"I couldn't sleep," Diaz said Tuesday as her family picked through the charred remains of their possessions in the 13100 block of Vanowen Street. "I was very nervous. I would close my eyes and see the fire."

The fire broke out at 4:36 p.m. Monday and swept quickly through the 13-unit apartment complex, doing $200,000 in damage, said city Fire Department spokesman Jim Wells. A resident and two police officers were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.

The smell of fire hung heavy in the air outside the damaged building Tuesday.

Diaz's 13-year-old daughter, Martha Rangel, searched the rubble for her mother's keys, driver's license, residency papers and Social Security card. Martha, her clothes, hands and forehead stained with soot, found more than $300 in charred bills and her grandmother's medicines, but little else.

Diaz, 42, said she was getting ready to do the laundry when the lights in her apartment began blinking and she noticed smoke.

"Get out. The building's on fire," Diaz said she told her mother and two kids as they escaped.

When firefighters arrived, flames were shooting from the ground floor to a second story balcony in the rear of the building. The fire was put out in 20 minutes. Wells said the cause is under investigation.

Resident David Meza, 18, said the fire spread within minutes. He was sleeping when relatives banging on his bedroom door woke him. His family of eight lost their clothes, appliances, Christmas tree and presents, and pictures, he said. They also lost about $1,000, which they had saved for two years and were planning to use to buy a car, Meza said.

Patricia Peralta said she was taking a shower when she heard someone outside tell residents to move their cars because firefighters were coming. She got dressed and got her five kids out of the two-bedroom apartment.

Inside her ground floor apartment Peralta found soaked furniture, documents and other things.

"I want to recover everything that is still good," said Peralta, 33. "They were only material things. We were able to save our lives."

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