Fire destroys Long Beach duplex featured in Times report on housing code violations

Fire destroys Long Beach duplex featured in Times report on housing code violations
Bruce Smith, reflected in the mirror, looks over his bathroom that doesn't have a shower head or faucet. The Long Beach apartment, which he had been living in for two years with Larry Watson, had no running water. It was gutted by a fire Wednesday morning. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Flames swept through a Long Beach duplex early Wednesday morning, leaving the property uninhabitable, according to city officials and witnesses at the scene.

The fire gutted the two-unit Orange Avenue rental property a day after it was featured in a Los Angeles Times story about housing code violations in the city.


Investigators are trying to determine the cause of the blaze, which was reported to the city fire department by a caller shortly after 2 a.m., said Jake Heflin, a spokesman for the agency. No injuries were reported, Heflin said.

Bruce Allen, who lived in one of the units, said he was sleeping in a rear bedroom when he awoke in a hot sweat.

"I hear this crackling and I heard the flames roaring and I could feel the heat," he said. "I look at my window and the window was all red. You could see the flames dancing."

The blaze appeared to be centered in a garage behind the house at 2045 Orange Ave., Allen said. He said he woke his 61-year-old roommate, Larry Watson, and helped him into his wheelchair and out of the apartment. A third man also escaped from the unit, Allen said.

In a story published Tuesday, Allen and Watson told The Times they had been in a long-running dispute with the building's owner, Janet Bobbitt, over the lack of running water to their unit. City inspectors issued citations for 20 housing code violations in recent months, city records show.

Reached by phone, Bobbitt's son Byron said that his mother suffers from dementia and that he now manages her properties. He said he learned about the fire from construction workers who offered their services to rebuild the property.

He said he visited the building after hearing about the fire. He said it is not insured and will need to be demolished and rebuilt. "It's unfortunate it came down to this," he said.

He blamed the building's poor condition on residents, some of whom he described as squatters. Allen and Watson said they stopped paying rent because repairs were not being made.

Red Cross officials temporarily relocated the residents to local hotels after the building was declared uninhabitable. Allen said he and Watson were turning to friends and family to help them find a new home.

For months, Long Beach city officials have been weighing various proposals to expand programs to educate tenants about their rights and increase oversight of landlords.

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