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Westside Apartment Fire Nearly Destroys Building

Blaze: Four-story structure had been under construction. No one is injured.

January 08, 2002|KENNETH REICH and GARRETT THEROLF | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

An apartment house undergoing construction near the Beverly Center was largely destroyed in a lunchtime fire Monday that sent a heavy pall of smoke over portions of West Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.

The blaze, in the 300 block of South Willaman Drive in Los Angeles, caused no injuries but drew the largest turnout of firefighters--nearly 200 in all--since the Palomar Hotel fire last year in Hollywood.

Los Angeles Fire Capt. Steve Ruda said 29 companies from Los Angeles city and county and the city of Beverly Hills took two hours and seven minutes to extinguish the blaze in the four-story building.

Scores of people were evacuated from nearby apartment houses. Ruda said a few workers on the site escaped.

He said there was only light damage to nearby buildings.

Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said the building could be a total loss, although it was possible that part of the foundation could be saved.

Assessor's records showed the property is owned by Willaman Mews Cottages LLC, and that its sale price as vacant land was $530,000.

Humphrey said the cause of the blaze was under investigation, although some witnesses said they saw flames coming from an electrical transformer as the fire began shortly before noon.

"This building was in the frame wrapping stage, there was a great deal of building material on site, so this was a very combustible scene and highly dangerous," Ruda said.

Zieve Sherman, a worker in a nearby building used by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center doctors, said it "looked like it might be electric, because we saw blue sparks coming from lines surrounding the apartment building even before the fire really got going."

Another witness, Carlo Marino, manager of a nearby restaurant, said a construction worker told him he thought the fire had started in the transformer.

Ruda said so much water was poured into the building as flames leaped high into the air that firefighters feared a collapse of the structure. He said fire units would stand by the smoldering structure through the night.

Police cordoned off several major streets, including 3rd Street, San Vicente Boulevard and Burton Way for two hours, and even channeled traffic on La Cienega Boulevard for a time, causing major traffic tie-ups in the vicinity.

*

Staff writer Sufiya Abdur-Rahman contributed to this story.

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