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Los Angeles

Tenant's Action Led to Apartment Blast, Probe Finds

June 28, 2002|KARIMA A. HAYNES

A Los Angeles Fire Department investigation has concluded that a tenant's attempt to repair a natural gas stove in an Encino apartment building caused an explosion and fire last month in which he was killed.

The conclusion, based on a monthlong probe of the incident, is contained in a fire investigation report released Thursday by the department's Arson Investigation Section.

After the incident at the Park Encino apartment complex at 5325 Newcastle Ave., tenant Dennis Cohen told authorities he had disconnected a gas line in his unit and soon thereafter lighted a cigarette.

Cohen suffered burns over 55% of his body and died of his injuries at Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks two days after the explosion.

The fire caused $5 million in damage to the building and its contents, the report said.

"It is the opinion of this investigator that, based on the physical evidence ... the valve line handle was left open, allowing gas to continue flowing for a sustained period of time," wrote LAFD Arson Investigator Glen G. Lucero.

"This created an ideal gas-to-air explosive ratio," he added. "An undetermined open flame or spark was then introduced into the atmosphere, resulting in the explosion and fire."

The blast caused the total collapse of the complex's west recreation room and two units directly above on the second and third floors, the report said.

The collapse severely diminished the structural integrity of the surrounding units.

The FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department sent investigators and bomb technicians to the site.

Accelerant-sniffing dogs brought to the scene did not detect anything unusual, the report said.

Ten units in one wing were destroyed and dozens of others were damaged.

About 300 people were displaced. No residents have been allowed back into the building.

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