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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary

Firefighters Say Access Was Barred in Fatal Blaze

November 11, 2000

INGLEWOOD — A townhouse fire that killed two preschool children remained under investigation Friday as firefighters said they had been hampered by a gate blocking access to the building.

The 5-year-old boy who died was identified as Jonathan Gorden. The name of the other victim, his 4-year-old sister, was not released Friday. Neighbors said the children had been visiting their grandfather in the Briarwood complex.

Some residents of the complex at 3500 W. Manchester Blvd. complained that fire crews did not appear to respond quickly enough to calls about the blaze. But Capt. Brian Jordan, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Fire Department, said fire engines arrived four minutes after the first call.

They would have been there even sooner after the 9:05 p.m. call if a gate to the complex had not been closed and chained, Jordan said. "That gate was literally 316 feet from the house."

Instead, fire engines had to travel more than half a mile through the main entrance and across five speed bumps to get to the two-story home.

Witnesses who arrived minutes before the fire crews said they could not get in to rescue the children.

"We tried to get in, but it was impossible. The heat was just too intense," said James Blackmon, one of several neighbors who tried to enter the front door. "The woman was hollering, 'Get my kids, my babies, my babies!' "

Within minutes, firefighters extinguished the blaze, which was concentrated on the second floor of the townhouse, and found the children's bodies, Jordan said.

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