Exact cause of double-fatal Altadena house fire ‘undetermined’

ALTADENA >> The specific cause of an explosive house fire that killed an elderly woman and her son earlier this month remains a mystery, though investigators were certain it was accidental, officials said.
Through X-ray comparison, officials Thursday confirmed the identities of Betty Kopp, 85, and her 58-year-old son Robert “Bob” Kopp, who died in the March 7 fire at the home they shared with three roommates in the 2400 block of Holliston Avenue, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Chief of Operations Craig Harvey said. They had previously been identified by a roommate, but their official identifications were delayed to to the conditions of their remains.
After a detailed analysis of the scene of the fatal fire, investigators were unable to determine exactly what sparked the fire, Detective Cynthia Valencia of the Sheriff’s Arson-Explosives Detail said. The officials cause is listed as “undetermined.”
Investigators have determined the fire started in a bedroom toward the rear of the house where Betty Kopp, who was confined to bed and used oxygen tanks, Valencia said.
And it was clear that the fire was fueled by the oxygen, she said Two of at least eight tanks at the home exploded in the fire.
Nonetheless, “We don’t know exactly what ignited it,” Valencia said.
But the massive fire was so intense it scorched any evidence investigators may have been able to use to narrow down a more specific cause, the detective said.
“It is accidental. We know that,” Valencia said. “There wasn’t any malicious intent.”
Two of the Kopps’ roommates were treated for minor injuries following the fire, officials said.

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UPDATED: Elderly woman, son killed in Altadena house fire

ALTADENA >> An elderly woman and her son lost their lives and two other people were hurt in a fire at their home late Saturday, authorities said.
The fire, which gutted the home, was first reported about 10:20 p.m. at the single-story home in the 2400 block of Holliston Ave., Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Randy Tuinstra said.
Sheriff’s officials described the victims as a 85-year-old woman and her 58-year-old son.
Neighbor identified them as Betty and Robert “Bob” Kopp.
Authorities did not release the victims’ names Sunday pending positive identification of the badly burned remains, coroner’s Investigator Dana Bee said.
Phillip Marin said he rented a room in the Kopp’s home, along with two other roommates.
0309_NWS_PSN-L-FATALFIRE3Marin was standing in the backyard of the home when an explosion blew out a sliding glass door at the rear of the house.
The explosion was believed to have been caused by oxygen tanks used by the elderly woman, according to sheriff’s officials and neighbors.
The house was quickly engulfed in flames, Marin said.
“I tried to get in, but I couldn’t,” he said.
The two other renters managed to get out of the home, he said. But the woman and her son, who used a wheelchair, did not.
Flames and smoke poured out of most, if not all, of the homes’ windows, county fire 0309_NWS_PSN-L-FATALFIRE4Capt. Brian Jordan said. It took firefighters about 20 minutes to extinguish the blaze.
Once the fire was out, firefighters discovered the bodies, Tuinstra said.
The two renters who got out of the home were taken to a hospital with apparently minor injuries, the captain said.
The fifth resident of the home, Marin, suffered no injuries.
“There was smoke all the way down the street,” neighbor Ray Martin said.
“The fire department got here and just knocked it down in a hurry,” he added.
0309_NWS_PSN-L-FATALFIRE5The cause of the fire remained under investigation, investigators found nothing suspicious at the scene, sheriff’s officials said.
“Though it’s under investigation, it appears accidental,” Jordan said.
A scorched wheelchair, the handset from a wireless home telephone and eight oxygen canisters sat in the front yard of the home Sunday. One of the canisters had ruptured in half.
The fire was first reported by a neighbor, Jordan said. The home had no working smoke alarms and was equipped with security bars on its windows.
Marin said he’d known Bob Kopp for more than a decade.
Bob Kopp took care of his mother, Marin said. “He was a nice guy.”
Marin was caring for Bob Kopp’s pet cat and cockatiel until animal control officials could make permanent arrangements for the animals.
0309_NWS_PSN-L-FATALFIRE2Fire officials estimated the fire caused $700,000 worth of damage.
The Sheriff’s Arson-Explosives Detail was handling the investigation, and anyone with information was asked to contact investigators at 323-881-7500.

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Fire scorches Pasadena home

PASADENA >> A fire scorched a Pasadena home Thursday, causing an estimated $300,000 worth of damage, officials said.
Three residents, including an elderly woman, were at home when the fire broke out about 1:30 p.m. at the split-level house in the 1700 block of Kaweah Drive, Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said. But they got out of the home uninjured before firefighters arrived.
About 40 firefighters from the Pasadena, South Pasadena and Glendale fire departments extinguished the stubborn fire in about 45 minutes, she said. The fire had worked it’s way well into the walls of the home.
It sparked on the bottom floor of the split-level home, Derderian said. The cause was determined to be a malfunctioning forced-air heating unit.
No other structures were damaged.
Officials estimated the blaze caused about $200,000 worth of damage to the home, and another $100,000 worth of damage to its contents, Derderian said.
Red Cross officials responded to the scene to help the displaced residents find temporary housing.

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CHP: Alhambra fire engine at fault in collision with Monterey Park fire engine last year


MONTEREY PARK >> A California Highway Patrol investigation into a crash between Alhambra and Monterey Park fire trucks last year that sent one of the engines careening into a dim sum restaurant, resulting in 15 injuries, has determined the Alhambra Fire Department truck was at fault for the collision.
The crash occurred shortly after 3 p.m. on April 16 at Garfield and Emerson avenues. Both trucks were responding to a report of a house fire in Monterey Park with emergency lights and sirens activated, officials said. The agencies often cooperate with each other in responding to emergencies.
The large truck’s collided in the intersection, sending the Monterey Park engine hurtling into the Lu Dumpling House. Four pedestrians who were walking in front of the restaurant were injured, one of them critically, authorities said. Six people inside the restaurant were also hurt, along with six firefighters.
A summary of the investigative findings released by the CHP Thursday states that the Alhambra fire engine’s driver drove unsafely just prior to the collision.
The Alhambra engine was southbound on Garfield Avenue at about 15 mph when it entered the intersection through a red light about the same time as the Monterey Park engine entered the intersection through a green light while heading east on Emerson Avenue at about 25 mph, according the CHP statement.
“The Alhambra fire engine failed to ensure the intersection was safe to enter against the red signal light,” according to the statement. “ Due to Alhambra fire engine’s unsafe operation, the front of Alhambra’s fire engine collided into the front of Monterey Park’s fire engine.”
No charges were to be filed in connection with the crash, CHP officials said.
The Alhambra engine was driven by 46-year-old Alhambra Fire Department Firefighter Bryan Butler. Monterey Park Fire Department Firefighter Nicholas Lima, 31, was at the wheel of the Monterey Park fire engine, according to the CHP.
Alhambra City Attorney Joseph Montes said 22 civil claims have been filed in connection with the crash. He declined to comment on the CHP findings.
“We’ve received the report. We’re in the process of analyzing and reviewing it,” Montes said. “We have pending litigation and in light of all that we are not in a position to make any further comment at this time.”
— Staff Writer Stephanie Baer contributed to this report.

PHOTO by Walt Mancini

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Fire scorches two Rosemead homes

ROSEMEAD — A fire damaged two Rosemead homes early Sunday, displacing two families, authorities said.
Officials first received reports of the fire in the 2600 block of Gladys Avenue at 9:57 a.m., Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Melanie Flores said.
Firefighters encountered heavy smoke on arrival and found the fire was burning its way through two homes sitting next door to each other.
Officials declared the fire extinguished at 10:33 a.m., Flores said.
No injuries were reported, however both families occupying the scorched homes were displaces, she said.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation. The extent of the damage was not immediately clear.

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Altadena garage, home scorched by fire

ALTADENA >> A fire caused major damage to an Altadena garage and home Friday afternoon, authorities said.
No one was hurt in the fire, which was first reported about 2:30 p.m. in the 2600 block of Lincoln Avenue, Sgt. T. Crosswhite of the sheriff’s Altadena Station said.
The fire started in the garage and spread to the house, officials said.
“It was severe damage,” Crosswhite said. A dollar-value estimate of the damage was not available.
Neighbor Cheryl Branum said she spotted the fire and called 9-1-1.
“I came home for lunch time and smelled smoke in my backyard. It didn’t smell like a chimney smoke or cigarette smoke, and within seconds, a big, huge, black ball of smoke and high flames were shooting over my yard,” Branum said.
“I frantically ran outside and I yelled at the neighbors. And the next think I know, I started hearing popping, exploding, and I called 9-1-1.
“Before you know it, the whole back part of their house was completely engulfed in flames.”
Sheriff’s deputies who arrived on-scene before firefighters grabbed hoses and started trying to put water on the burning home, she said. “My stupid nozzle wouldn’t turn on”.”
A family living in the home managed to get out safely before firefighters arrived, Crosswhite said. They were expected to be displaced from their home for at least one night.
After extinguishing the flames, firefighters teamed with the Sheriff’s Arson-Explosives Detail to investigate the cause of the fire, Crosswhite said. The investigation was ongoing late Friday.
Officials also worked to clean the scene and check for any possible hazardous chemicals, as officials recieved intiial reports that there were containers of some type of chemicals stored in the garage, officials said. Further details were not available.
Branum said she was glad no one was injured in the fire.

VIDEO by Walt Mancini

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Brush fire ignites near Rose Hills in Whittier

WHITTIER >> A brush fire broke out on a hillside neighboring Rose Hills Memorial Park and Cemetery Saturday, officials said.
The fire was first reported about 5 p.m. just to the east of the memorial park at 3888 Workman Mill Road, Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Bernard Peters said.
Firefighters on the ground were joined by three helicopters as they poured water onto the flames, Peters said.
The fire grew to 1-and-a-half acres before fighters declared it extinguished just over an hour after it began, officials said.
No injuries were reported.

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South Pasadena home destroyed by fire


SOUTH PASADENA >> Firefighters responded about 4 a.m. to the fire at the single-story house in the 800 block of Kendall Avenue, South Pasadena Fire Department Capt. Chris Szenczi said.
The fire caused an estimated $600,000 worth of damage to the house and it’s contents, however no injuries were reported, the captain said.
Los Angeles firefighters who happened to be nearby arrived first at the scene, and were soon joined by their counterparts in the South Pasadena Fire Department, as well as other nearby fire departments, Scenczi said.
Firefighters extinguished the fire in slightly less than an hour.
The home was vacant following the recent death of resident, Scenczi said. The items inside had been boxed up in preparation to remove them from the home.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation, however officials were looking into the possibility the fire was ignited by boxes left on top of a gas floor heater, Szenczi said.


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UPDATED: Tanker truck bursts into flames in Boyle Heights; creates “river of fire”

BOYLE HEIGHTS >> A tanker truck overturned and burst into flames in Boyle Heights Friday, releasing a river of flaming gasoline that significantly damaged one home and destroyed an SUV before firefighters got the upper hand, officials said.
The tanker fire was first reported about 3:30 p.m. in the 2600 block of 8th Street, just east of Soto Street, according to Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey.
The driver of the tandem tanker truck driver was entering the 5 Freeway from the 8th Street offramp when the rear trailer overturned and caught fire, Humphrey said. A second fuel tanker being hauled by the truck remained on its wheels.
The driver escaped unscathed from the burning big rig, officials said. The intense fire sent a thick black plume into the air that was visible for miles around.
The “bulk of visible fire” was controlled about an hour after it began, officials said.
Humphrey said the tanker, which had a capacity of 4,800 gallons, was believed to be carrying unknown type of fuel, however further details were not available.
The truck driver was attempting to enter the 5 Freeway from the 8th Street onramp when the mishap occurred, officials said.
The local street and 8th Avenue onramp were expected to remain closed through the afternoon to allow for clean-up, investigation and utility repairs, Humphrey said.
Fuel leaking from the burning tanker produced a “river of fire” that headed downhill, Humphrey said. The fire destroyed an SUV that was parked along the curb.
“There were three homes in the path of the fire,” he said.
The two homes nearest to the fire sustained only cosmetic damage such as singed eves.
But the flow of burning gasoline made its way around the corner and set fire to triplex and some nearby brush, Humphrey said. At least one unit in the subdivided building sustained significant damage, and the residents would be temporarily displaced.
The two tanker trailers being hailed by the truck had a combined capacity of about 9,000 gallons of gasoline, Humphrey said. The rear trailer, which overturned and caught fire, contained about 4,800 gallons of fuel.
Nearly 3,000 gallons of gas leaked from the truck, Humphrey said. The second tanker did not rupture.
Firefighters worked to carefully drill a hole in the overturned tanker and use a vaccuum truck to drain it of an estimated 2,000 gallons of remaining fuel, Humphrey said.
The 8th Street onramp tot he 5 Freeway, as well as a small portion of 8th Street, were expected to remain closed at least through the end of Friday.
The bulk of “visible flames” was extinguished within about 20 minutes, Humphrey said. The fire was declared fully extinguished about 80 minutes after it ignited.

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Fire scorches garage attached to El Monte apartment building

EL MONTE >> A fire damaged a garage attached to an apartment building Thursday, but resulted in no injuries, officials said.
Firefighters first responded to a report of smoke emanating from the 4000 block of La Madera Avenue about 12:30 p.m., Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Randall Wright said.
The first engine to arrive found smoke pouring from the garage, which was attacked to a single-story apartment building, Wright said. Firefighters extinguished the blaze in just over 20 minutes.
No civilians or firefighters were hurt, and no apartment residents were displaced, he said.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation. A dollar-value estimate of the damage was not available.

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