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After seven fire deaths in a month, LAFD to launch safety campaign

January 28, 2014|By Ruben Vives and Ari Bloomekatz | This post has been corrected, as indicated below.
  • Investigators at the site of a house fire Tuesday in Mid-City that left a man dead.
Investigators at the site of a house fire Tuesday in Mid-City that left a… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

Los Angeles fire officials plan to launch a safety campaign after a surge in fire-related deaths so far this year, including one Tuesday in which a man died after a blaze at a home in Mid-City that did not have smoke detectors.

“We’ve never had these number of fatalities in such a short amount of time,” said Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Jaime Moore.

Seven people have died in fires this month, a surprise to fire officials because fires are more common during cold winters when people use furnaces, space heaters and even small grills to keep warm. But this winter has been dry and unseasonably warm.

“That’s the irony of this,” Moore said. “We’ve had seven fatalities without a cold spell.”

Typically, the department averages one to two deaths by this point in the year, Moore said.

According to the department’s civilian fire fatality statistics, the number of fire-related death cases in Los Angeles is ticking up. Last year, there were 20 fire-related deaths and 22 in 2012. There were 21 in 2011 and 23 in 2010.

[For the record, 10:51 p.m. PST, Jan. 28, 2014: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated the fatalities as 21 in 2013, 18 in 2011 and 15 in 2010.]

Officials say the fatalities reported this month had one thing in common: no smoke detectors.

“We have to be more proactive,” Moore said.

The LAFD’s safety campaign will probably include reminders for residents to install the devices, public service announcements and partnerships with safety nonprofits. The department also plans to reach out to smoke detector companies for donations.

But the Fire Department can only do so much, said LAFD Battalion Chief Stephen Ruda, and residents need to take responsibility.

“We can talk and we can write so much, but people have to act,” Ruda said. “Maybe it’s the apathy of the people: 'It won’t happen to me.'”

Ruda and Moore were at the scene Tuesday at a one-story salmon-colored home in the 2300 block of South Orange Drive in Mid-City. Damian Young, 37, died; his mother and elderly aunt suffered from possible smoke inhalation.

It was not immediately clear what sparked the 5:36 a.m. blaze, which was mostly contained to one bedroom. Young often used candles and incense in his room, fire officials said.

“It’s devastating,” said neighbor Tanisha Martin, 39, who knew Young and his family.

Martin described Young as an immaculate dresser who worked as a salesman at the Macy’s in the Beverly Center for many years. She and Young’s mother were childhood friends.

“He loved his mother tremendously,” Martin said.

Standing outside her home, Martin said firefighters gave her two carbon monoxide detectors after they learned her home did not have any smoke or carbon monoxide detectors.

“I hope this creates awareness,” Martin said. “A beautiful young man is no longer with us because of the tragic error of not having a smoke detector.”

Four of the seven deaths in January include a family – parents and two children – who were killed in a fire at a converted barn in Sylmar.

Ruda said two of the fatal fires occured at homes with “pack-rat” conditions, including a garage fire in Winnetkaa in which a 61-year-old man died. 

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ruben.vives@latimes.com

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

Twitter: @latvives 



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