Fire at Echo Park apartment building kills 2, injures 4

The blaze, which Los Angeles fire officials said appeared to have been intentionally set, displaces 25 residents.

December 12, 2013|By Ruben Vives and Ari Bloomekatz
  • Coroner's officials examine the room where one of two people died during a fire in Echo Park on Thursday. Authorities said the early-morning blaze, which took place on two separate stories of an apartment building, was "suspicious."
Coroner's officials examine the room where one of two people died… (Mark Boster, Los Angeles…)

A fire tore through an apartment building in Echo Park early Thursday, killing two people, injuring four and displacing 25 others, officials said.

The fire — on two separate floors of the building — was deemed "suspicious" and appeared to have been intentionally set, according to Capt. Jaime Moore of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

More than 100 firefighters responded to the 1000 block of North Bonnie Brae Street, near Sunset Boulevard, about 12:15 a.m. Thursday, authorities said.

It took fire crews nearly an hour to douse the flames. When it was over, two bodies were discovered in separate apartment units, Moore said. Relatives identified the dead as Diego Alberto, 23, and Rosa Fonseca, 90.

Moore said the woman was found on the first floor of the building; the man was in an upstairs unit.

At least three people and a firefighter were injured in the blaze. One woman suffered burns to her face and a 10-year-old suffered smoke inhalation. The firefighter had minor burns.

By 6 a.m., the flames had been doused and water streamed down the street; fire hoses lay scattered on the road. Neighbors stood outside and watched as arson and homicide investigators combed the scene.

Officials will determine whether smoke alarms were working properly or if there were any building code violations that contributed to the fire.

Dogs detected an accelerant at the front door of the building. There was no fire damage in that area, but Moore said investigators took a sample to identify it.

Christian Lara, 33, stood alone with his hands tucked in the pockets of his hooded sweater, watching firefighters finish their work. He said Diego Alberto, one of those killed, was his brother.

Lara, also a resident of the apartment building, said he was driving home from work when the apartment manager called to say the building was on fire. Lara immediately thought of his roommates — his cousin and his brother.

When he arrived, he said, he found his 43-year-old cousin on the ground, injured after jumping from a window in their second-floor apartment. He yelled for his brother, but got no response.

"The fire by then had consumed most of the building," Lara said, adding that Los Angeles Fire Department officials later told him his brother had died in the fire.

Lara said that Alberto had just celebrated his 23rd birthday on Monday and that he and his roommates had immigrated from the Mexican state of Queretaro more than a decade ago.

Jose Amaya, 60, a handyman from Pico Rivera, also stood nearby. His mother, Rosa Fonseca, also died in the fire.

"I feel sad over the death of my dear mother," Amaya said in Spanish, his voice quivering. His hands, stained with dry paint, shook as he showed reporters videos he had taken of her on his phone two days before.

Amaya said he received a call from one of the neighbors at 2 a.m. and rushed to the apartment building, where investigators told him his mother was among the victims.

The last time he spoke to his mother, they had conversed about family and life.

"Old people have stories to tell and I wanted to hear all of the ones she had to tell me," he said.

As coroner's officials carried out the bodies, Amaya walked away: "I don't want to see my people being brought out like that."

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