LAFD plans campaign to fight a surge in fire deaths

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

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

Seven people have died in fires this month, a surprise to fire officials because deaths typically occur more during cold winters when residents start using furnaces, space heaters and even small grills. 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 increasing.

Last year, there were 20 fire-related deaths and there were 22 deaths in 2012. The department recorded 21 deaths in 2011 and 23 deaths 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 do only so much, LAFD Battalion Chief Stephen Ruda said, 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 home in the 2300 block of South Orange Drive in the Mid-City area. Damian Young, 37, died; his mother and elderly aunt suffered 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 in sales 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.

Martin said firefighters gave her two carbon monoxide detectors after they learned that her home did not have any smoke or carbon monoxide detectors. She said she plans to buy smoke 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."

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 occurred at homes with "pack rat" conditions, including the death of a 61-year-old man who was killed in a garage fire in Winnetka.