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Fire Revisits Building; At Least 19 Displaced

August 05, 2000|HECTOR BECERRA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A fire Friday damaged seven units of a Garden Grove apartment complex where a blaze last year killed a woman and her son and injured nine others, authorities said.

No one was seriously hurt in Friday's fire, which was reported at 9:23 a.m. at the Crown Villa Apartments on Hazard Avenue and extinguished within half an hour. A few people suffered minor injuries when they scrambled out of their units, including Syed Hussain, who fell and injured his left shoulder.

Hussain, wife Asra, their son and two daughters were among those who survived last June's tragedy. Asra Hussain, a preschool teacher who also runs a matchmaking business from her home, said as she sat against a foyer wall outside her family's waterlogged apartment that she felt nervous and angry. Their unit is next to the one where the flames started, she said.

"This is too much now. I can't deal with it," she said as her daughters looked on. "We have no family we can stay with. . . . My son still has nightmares from the last fire."

Her business is in shambles too, she said, for the second time in just over a year. Friday night, a young woman was supposed to travel from Chicago to Hussain's apartment for a possible arranged marriage. Two other people looking for marriage partners were to arrive later in the weekend, she said.

Without the phone on which she relies to keep her business going, Hussain said, her family stands to suffer financially.

"My home is strongly tied to my business," Hussain said. "I can't take it."

At least 19 people were displaced by the blaze, including 11 children, authorities said. Damage to the buildings and to tenants' belongings was estimated at $240,000, Garden Grove Fire Capt. Bill Keen said.

By comparison, last year's deadly fire resulted in more than $2 million in damage, he said. A big difference, he said, was changes made to the building after the first blaze, which investigators blamed on lightweight plastic tableware that caught fire during the dry cycle in an automatic dishwasher. Nho Phan, 28, and her son Rick Pham, 2, died when they could not escape from their burning apartment.

Since then, the apartment-complex owner voluntarily installed a sprinkler system in all hallways and doors that automatically close, keeping flames from jumping from unit to unit as easily, Keen said.

"The victims were in a downstairs unit. The fire basically traveled to where they were through an open door," he said. "To his credit, the owner did things he didn't have to do. And the difference was huge, both in lives saved and property damaged."

Investigators said Friday's fire was caused by an appliance in a bedroom on the second floor. Occupant Kim Lewis, 38, said she was devastated and mystified by the fire, which seemed to originate near her TV set as she and her family slept. She wept as she recalled rushing out of the burning apartment with her two children.

"I woke up when I felt the heat. Then I saw the flames and the smoke creeping in my direction," Lewis said. "I got the kids out. I tried to go back in to get some belongings, but the windows started to blow out."

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