Fire Almost Levels Project; Second Blaze Closes Plant

Times Staff Writers

A pre-dawn fire caused more than $1 million in damage to a condominium under construction in Northridge on Tuesday, and a second, unrelated blaze forced the evacuation of 500 people in a Canoga Park industrial area several hours later.

The fire at the construction site at 17806 W. Kinzie St. gutted two-thirds of the 114-unit building. Twenty-seven Los Angeles Fire Department companies responded to the 4 a.m. blaze across the street from California State University, Northridge, said Fire Department spokesman Patrick Patterson. No one was hurt in the fire, which raged out of control for an hour, Patterson said.

Arson investigators said the fire was suspicious, but they had not yet determined the cause.

Firefighters who arrived first on the scene of the Northridge fire said they feared the Alpha Phi sorority house, next door to the construction site, would also be destroyed because of the intensity of the flames and the flammability of the wood shingles on the home's roof.

They soaked the roof of the house with water, however, preventing major damage.

Patterson said the front of the condominium development was engulfed in flames by the time the first units arrived. Much of the U-shaped structure was gutted by a fireball that raced through the wooden frame as firefighters tried to control the flames from inside the section of the building that was saved, he said.

"The front part of this construction site was what we call a vertical lumber yard because it wasn't wrapped or dry-walled yet. The fire pre-heats everything ahead of it, so the lumber dries up and burns right away," Patterson said. "It's amazing we were able to save any of it at all."

An official with the Costa Mesa company that owns the development said construction began in June and was three-fourths completed. The company was going to begin seeking tenants in March.

"It would have been worth $3.5 million at completion," said Ralph Lanning, construction manager for American Diversified Capital Corp., as he surveyed the damage. "Now there's not much we can save. The roof is almost totally gone. . . . We'll probably have to rip down what's left and start all over."

In the Canoga Park fire, the evacuations were ordered and a yacht assembly factory was shut down for two days after an explosion in three electrical transformers. Fire officials ordered the evacuation of three nearby buildings and cordoned off the 6400 block of Variel Avenue when thick black smoke, which they initially believed might carry carcinogenic substances, billowed over the area.

The Department of Water and Power notified fire officials about 20 minutes after the blaze erupted at 9:08 a.m. that the transformers were free of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), a suspected carcinogenic, and the area was reopened to traffic.

Production of PCB, which was widely used in electrical equipment because of its extreme heat resistance, was banned in the late 1970s because of health concerns. A DWP spokesman said that the chemical is still present in cooling oil used in a few of the city's 100,000 transformers. Records indicated that the transformers involved in the fire had been tested and were free of the substance, the spokesman said.

The cause of the Canoga Park blaze was not determined Tuesday, but fire officials said it was probably caused by overheated equipment.

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