Two men killed in Whittier fire identified

WHITTIER — Authorities have released the names of two men found dead inside their burning home last week.
The bodies of Ruben Nareja Garcia, 31, and Jose Luis Cortez, 34, were found once firefighters extinguished a Jan. 2 fire at their apartment, which sat atop a garage in the 13500 block of Via Del Palma Avenue in Whittier, on the morning of Jan. 2, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter said.
The officials identification of the men was delayed due to the burned condition of their bodies, officials said.
Cortez died from smoke inhalation and burns, and the death was ruled an accident, Winter said.
Garcia’s cause of death had not been determined as coroner’s investigators awaited test results, he said.
Investigators initially ruled out arson and were focusing their investigation on the possibility a pile of clothes near an electrical outlet was to blame, Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Bryan Kidder said.

Family escapes burning home in San Dimas


SAN DIMAS — A family escaped their burning home unharmed Saturday as a fast-spreading fire engulfed their Via Verde house.
The fire ignited just before 2:20 p.m. inside the attached garage of a single-story home in the 1300 block of Via Verde Avenue, Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Todd Woods said.
Four residents — a man, his wife and two adult nieces — were shaken following the fire, but relieved that everyone was safe.
A firefighter was hurt when the roof the burning garage partially collapsed on him, Woods said. He was taken to a hospital for treatment of what were believed to be minor injuries.
Resident Anna Solod, 27, first realized something was amiss.
“I heard a crackling noise, like fireworks,” she said. She also noticed light fixtures near the garage were blinking.
When she opened the door leading from the garage, she said found the interior engulfed in flames.
She alerted the other three residents of the fire as she dialed 9-1-1, and the family made it’s way out of their house, which was rapidly being consumed by flames.
The smoke inside the home became heavy, Solod said. “There were flames everywhere.”
Solod’s uncle, Alex Smirnoff, credited her with getting the family out safely.
“She just runs in. She just screams, ‘The house is on fire,’” he said.
“As I ran toward the garage, I could already see the fire around the door. I tried to peek in, but the backdraft was intense,” Smirnoff said. “It was so quick.”
Once the family escaped the home, the fire continued burning, causing severe damage throughout. A dollar-value estimate of the damage was not available Saturday afternoon.
SDfire2Along with the damage to the rental home, two Jaguar cars parked inside the garage were destroyed, and at least one more car parked outside was damaged. Smirnoff described one of the destroyed vehicles, a 1974 Jaguar XKE, as his “pride and joy.” The other Jaguar, an XJ6 belonged to his wife.
Firefighters extinguished the flames in about 40 minutes, Woods said, though smoke continued rising from the house more than an hour later.
“It looks like they stopped the fire really well,” Smirnoff said.
Smirnoff, a graphic designer, was especially glad that firefighters managed to save two computers inside his home which contain his life’s work.
“If it wasn’t for them, I probably would be out of work,” he said.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation, Woods said. Nothing suspicious was initially noted.


Pasadena house fire blamed on clothes dryer

PASADENA — A fire initially believed to have been sparked by a clothes dryer early Friday displaced a family of four, officials said.
A neighbor reported seeing smoke about 9:45 a.m. in the 500 block of Buckeye Street, Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said.
A man, woman and two children were not home when the dryer ignited, Derderian said.
Firefighters kept the flames contained to the dryer area, extinguishing the fire before it reached the home’s walls or attic, officials said.
The Red Cross responded to help the displaced family find temporary lodging. Fire officials estimated the fire caused $150,000 worth of damage to the house and its contents.
Exactly how the fire started remained under investigation, however Derderian said Pasadena firefighters respond to several dryer fires each year that are caused by accumulated lint in the lint traps. She also advised residents not to leave clothes dryers running while away from home.

Home destroyed, lizards killed in Glendora fire

GLENDORA — A family’s home was destroyed, two pet lizards died and cat was missing following a mobile home fire Saturday in Glendora.
A woman and her 8-year-old daughter who were inside the mobile home in the 21200 block of East Arrow Highway when it caught fire just after 3:30 p.m. fire escaped unharmed, Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Michael Bernal said. A man and 2-year-old girl who live there were not home at the time.
The fire was first discovered when the 8-year-old girl alerted her mother that she smelled smoke, the captain said.
The mother went to investigate, he said. “She found smoke, and fire going up the wall.”
Firefighters found the mobile home engulfed in flames when they arrived, officials said. They doused the fire in just under 20 minutes, however the home was deemed a total loss.
Two pet lizards that were inside the mobile home died in the fire, Bernal said. The family’s pet cat was missing.
Firefighters determined the cause of the fire was an electrical malfunction, he said.
Officials estimated the fire caused $120,000 worth of damage to the mobile home and its contents.
The manager of the mobile home park where the fire broke out, Royal Palms, offered to place the family in a vacant unit for the night as they made plans to move forward, Bernal added.

Elderly man badly burned in La Mirada house fire; wife douses flames with kitchen pan

LA MIRADA — A man was hospitalized with severe burns after he caught fire while igniting a fire in a fireplace, authorities said.
The 82-year-old man’s wife used a kitchen pan to douse the flames with water before firefighters rushed him to a burn center with third-degree burns over about 50 percent of his body, Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Greg Lombardo said.
The woman was taken to a hospital, estimated to be in her late-70s, appeared unharmed but was taken to a hospital as a precaution, officials said.
Officials first responded to the fire about 12:35 p.m. in the 13000 block of Gandara Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Jason Skeen said.
The man had been trying to light a fire in the fireplace when items nearby caught fire, as well as the man’s clothing, Lombardo said.
His wife, who was in the backyard at the time, came into the home. “He was on fire when she found him,” Skeen said.
The woman grabbed a kitchen pan and used to douse the fire, which was all-but-extinguished when firefighters arrived, Lombardo said.
Firefighters rushed the badly injured man to the University of California, Irvine Medical Center for treatment.
The fire was determined to be accidental in nature, Lombardo said.

Man found dead after Altadena apartment fire identified

ALTADENA — Coroner’s officials have released the name of a man whose badly burned body was found following a fire inside his unit at a senior citizens’ apartment complex.
Eldrid Sweeney, 81, of Altadena was pronounced dead at the scene of the two-alarm fire that broke out about 1:30 p.m. Dec. 9 in the 26090 block of North Lincoln Avenue, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Joe Bale said. An autopsy had been carried out, however Sweeney’s cause of death was not yet determined pending the results of test results.
Sweeney’s identity was previously unconfirmed due to the badly burned condition in which his body was found.
The cause of the fire, which left one other person with minor injuries, was under investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Arson-Explosives Detail.
Officials estimated the fire caused $1.05 million worth of damage to the building and its contents.

Fire scorches Pasadena apartment building


PASADENA — An apartment house fire scorched two units early Sunday, displacing the residents but resulting in no injuries, authorities said.
The fire broke out about 1:50 a.m. at a two-story apartment building in the 500 block of North Hill Avenue, just south of Orange Grove Boulevard, according to Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman Lisa Derderian.
1209_NWS_PSN-L-PASFIRE2The first firefighters to arrive at the scene encountered flames emanating from an apartment on the second floor, with flames spreading into the attic, prompting officials to call in reinforcements, officials said.
After extinguishing the blaze, which damaged two units, investigators determined the cause of the blaze as a malfunctioning wall heater, Derderian said.
Three adults and a small child were displaced from the two damaged units, Derderian said. The Red Cross was summoned to help them find temporary housing.
Residents of the other 12 or so units in the building were evacuated during the fire, but allowed to return once it was out, she added.
1209_NWS_PSN-L-PASFIRE3Due to the “frigid cold,” police officers kept vulnerable evacuees such as young children inside heated police cars or the department’s mobile command center until they were able to return home, Derderian said.
Officials estimated the fire caused $375,000 worth of damage to the affected units and the contents inside.


PHOTOS courtesy of Jamie Nicholson/Pasadena Fire Department

Series of small fires near Azusa deemed ‘very suspicious’

AZUSA — Police and arson investigators suspected “very suspicious” series of fires reported in a brush area near Fish Canyon Sunday may have been the work of an arsonist, authorities said.The first in a series of three fires was reported about 12:40 p.m. along Encanto Parkway, near the Vulcan Materials Company on Fish Canyon Road, Azusa police and Los Angeles County Fire Department officials said.
Firefighters made quick work of the spot fires, which were under control in matter of minutes, fire Dispatch Supervisor Bernard Peters said. Water dropping aircraft were on stand-by, but ultimately were not needed.
The three small fires scorched less than an acre in total, but caught the eye of arson investigators.
“They’re suspected to be deliberately set,” Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Gerald Gonzales said. He added that investigators were, “leaning toward arson.”
It appeared homeless people camp in the area, however it was not immediately clear if that played a role in the fires, he said.
Officials noted several suspicious factors in connection with the fire.
“When our officers went on-scene, it appeared to them that there were flare-ups that were occurring in what almost looked like measured intervals,” Schmidt said.
Additionally, “They did find a motorcycle that appeared to have been concealed nearby,” the sergeant said. The registered owner could not be found.
“At the very least, it’s very suspicious,” Schmidt said.
Another small fire was reported in the same general area and quickly extinguished by 5:30 a.m. Sunday, Gonzales added. The cause of that fire was not determined.
The fire burned very close to the scene of the Madre Fire, which scorched 268 acres in late-September.
That fire was determined to be human caused, though investigators stopped short of labeling it arson, Schmidt said.

Updated: Early-morning fire damages Pasadena business

PASASDENA  — A fire damaged a Walnut street business early Sunday, officials said.
The fire was reported about 1 a.m. at a home that had been subdivided into two businesses in the 1100 block of East Walnut Street, Pasadena police and fire officials said.
The lone resident was not home at the time, Pasadena police Lt. Jason Clawson said.
Firefighters extinguished the flames, and determined the cause of the fire was electrical in nature, Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said. A failing electrical wire inside a lamp was ultimately blamed.
No injuries were reported, and the fire was confined to a single room, officials said.

Burning truck snarls traffic on 210 Freeway in Irwindale

IRWINDALE — For the second time in two days, a flaming big rig brought the afternoon commute through the San Gabriel Valley to a crawl Friday, this time in Irwindale, authorities said.
No injuries were reported in connection with the fire, which ignited about 5:15 p.m. in the westbound lanes of the 210 Freeway at the 605 Freeway, California Highway Patrol Officer Tony Polizzi said.
Callers first reported seeing a big rig disabled and on fire in the No. 3 lane of traffic, the officer said. Subsequent callers reported the fire grew until the truck was fully engulfed.
Firefighters extinguished the blaze in about 20 minutes, according to CHP logs. The cause was unclear.
Officials initially shut down all but the carpool lane as they extinguished the fire and removed the scorched truck from the roadway. A little over an hour later, the carpool and two left-hand lanes had been reopened.