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Cause of South L.A. fire that killed mother, toddler investigated

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Investigators are trying to determine what sparked a fire Wednesday in a converted garage in South L.A., killing a mother and her toddler in what are the city's 10th and 11th civilian fire fatalities this year.

The street in front of the pink stucco house in the 170 block of East 50th Street was blocked off Wednesday afternoon as fire officials and Los Angeles police interviewed people gathered outside the home.

The garage, which caught fire shortly before 11:45 a.m., was behind the house, fire officials said.

The 2-year-old was "pulseless and not breathing" when firefighters found the child, said LAFD Deputy Chief Joseph Castro. The toddler was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead upon arrival.

The mother was later found inside the garage, Castro said. The victims' names have not been released, he added, as officials are in the process of notifying the father and another child, an 8-year-old who was at school at the time of the blaze.

Castro said firefighters were called to the area earlier Wednesday after a report of smoke, but did not find any fire. The call about the garage fire came about an hour later, he said. Castro said it was unclear if the calls were related.

Neighbor Alytino Brown, 56, said he had seen the firefighters in the area earlier in the day, but there appeared to be no fire. Later, he said, he saw billowing flames from the garage.

Brown said the family -- a man, woman and two children -- had lived in the garage for the past few years.

"It's awful," he said. "When you lose someone to a fire like this, how could it not be?"

The deaths mark the 10th and 11th civilian fatalities in Los Angeles this year, officials said. Last year, there were 20 fire-related deaths, according to city fire statistics. There were 22 fatalities in 2012, 21 in 2011 and 23 in 2010.

In January, city officials launched a public safety campaign to install and maintain smoke detectors. Castro said firefighters would canvas the neighborhood around Wednesday's fire with free smoke detectors and literature "in hopes of saving another life."

Casto said it was not immediately clear if the garage had working smoke detectors.

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ruben.vives@latimes.com

kate.mather@latimes.com

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