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Loft destroyed in Compton-area fire may have been illegal

September 09, 2013|By Angel Jennings
  • L.A. County coroner K-9 handler Karina Peck guides her human remains detection canine through the rubble left by a fire at 4319 E. Compton Blvd. on Monday.
L.A. County coroner K-9 handler Karina Peck guides her human remains detection… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

Officials are investigating whether the auto mechanic shop that caught fire early Monday was an illegal residential dwelling.

Fire crews received a report of a fire at a commercial building in the 4300 block of East Compton Boulevard at about 2 a.m. When they arrived, they found the shop with a converted loft engulfed in flames.  

A family of six was living in the loft space above the shop, authorities said. Four family members escaped the blaze, but hours later, a cadaver dog was still searching the rummage looking for a 42-year-old mother and her 12-year-old daughter who went missing in the fire.

Two building inspectors searched the perimeter and inside the badly charred building to see if it was safe enough for crews to enter.  Earlier, the building was deemed too unstable and fire officials debating whether to tear it down, said Roy Itani, a district engineer for the Los Angeles County building and safety division.

"When we go back into the office, we will look into the matter if it was illegal or not," he said.  But Itani said such buildings are "usually not" permitted as mixed-used properties.

L.A. County Fire Inspector Scott Miller described the loft as having "pack rat-like conditions with heavy content.” Debris was stacked higher than the firefighters, making rescue efforts more dangerous, he added.

The automotive parts and debris that clogged the living quarters caused the blaze to burn longer and hotter, and the loft to collapse, Miller said.

The property had no record of being cited, according to the county Public Works Department.

Meanwhile, L.A. County fire officials have turned the case over to the county Sheriff's Department.

Michelle Lockhart, who lives across the street, recalled hearing a loud explosion as the fire broke out.

"It shook my house a little bit," she said.  "I thought it was an earthquake."

As she stood on the corner diagonal from the building, there was a second explosion. Lockhart and several other neighbors ducked for cover, she said.

"It was burning so hot, there is no way anybody could have gotten out of there," she said.

Officials would not immediately comment on whether any bodies had been found.


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