Smoke alarms not functioning in duplex fire; man seriously burned

Smoke alarms not functioning in duplex fire; man seriously burned
LAFD Capt. Jaime Moore, left, and LAFD Inspector John Novela walk around a burned home in the 200 block of West 50th Street in LosAngeles' South Park neighborhood. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

A 60-year-old man remained in grave condition Monday hours after a fire tore through his South Park duplex, which authorities said did not have functioning smoke alarms.

The blaze, reported at around 1:30 a.m. in the 200 block of West 50th Street, was likely caused by a cigarette, officials said. When fire personnel arrived on scene, they found the man inside and not breathing. He regained a pulse on the way to a local hospital, where he was taken with third-degree burns and respiratory problems.


The 40 firefighters on scene were able to put out the flames in 20 minutes. Another woman who lived next door was not injured.

Although the man's home had two fire alarms, they had improper electrical wiring and no battery backups. His neighbor's home had three alarms, but those were also nonfunctional, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The fire prompted department officials to canvass the neighborhood, warning residents to replace batteries in smoke alarms.

Since January, 16 people have died in structure-related fires in the city, the majority of whom did not have functioning smoke alarms.

Most of those deaths -- 13 -- occurred in the first three months of the year, prompting the Fire Department to launch the Smoke Alarm Field Education program, which includes giving out smoke alarms.

"We know it's working -- our campaign is working," said Fire Department spokesman Jaime Moore.

When canvassing the neighborhood Monday morning, fire personnel gave away 30 alarms and replaced about a dozen batteries after determining which residents had nonfunctioning smoke alarms.

Moore said one woman told firefighters one of her alarms had been "chirping like a bird" for two weeks -- a sign that the battery needs to be replaced.

"This just goes to prove, there's still people who are not checking smoke alarms. And a lot of them are elderly," Moore said of Monday's incident.

He said the elderly are particular vulnerable to home fires -- they may have mobility issues or problems processing what is happening when a fire starts, he said.

"When you have a fire, how quick can a 90-year-old man run out of his house?" Moore said.

Other risk factors include excessive storage or hoarding. But having non-working smoke alarms ranks among the most dangerous factors.

"The dangers multiply exponentially, because now you don't have an early warning system," Moore said. "You don't have anything to let you know, 'Hey, something's going on here, you better get out.'"

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