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Accidental Fire Strikes Apartments Damaged by Arson in Northridge

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Times Staff Writer

A fire broke out accidentally Tuesday morning at the same partly completed Northridge apartment project where a deliberately set blaze last week gutted 61 units, causing more than $2 million damage.

Six apartments were destroyed Tuesday in the 8 a.m. blaze at 17806 Kinzie St. and another 20 units were damaged as the flames raced along the attic area of the three-story development’s wood frame, said Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Patrick Patterson. Seven fire companies battled the blaze, which caused at least $150,000 damage, he said.

One fireman was treated and released at Northridge Hospital Medical Center after debris fell and lodged in his left eye, Patterson said.

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Wire Blamed

The latest fire apparently was caused when an electrical wire running along the outside of an undamaged part of the building hit metal scaffolding, creating an “electrical arc” that set the wood frame on fire, said spokesman Larry Ford.

Signs offering a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the arsonist responsible for the Jan. 8 fire at the Northridge complex were posted within a few yards of where Tuesday’s blaze broke out.

Ralph Lanning, construction manager at the site, said a demolition crew was on the roof of the project when it spotted the flames Tuesday morning.

“They were just starting to clean up and get the reconstruction going after the last fire,” Lanning said. “They were over on another part of the building when they noticed the smoke and flames and called it in” to the Fire Department.

Plea for Leads

The Northridge site was the scene of a public plea by arson investigators Friday for leads that would help them link seven fires at large condominium and apartment construction sites throughout Los Angeles. Officials said the series of fires, five of which have been in the San Fernando Valley, have caused more than $10 million damage.

Officials say the series of arsons began last year with a New Year’s Day blaze at a condominium project in Pacoima. The most recent fire in the series erupted Thursday morning at an apartment project in Canoga Park.

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Although there have been 65 “suspicious” fires at large apartment and condominium construction sites since 1979, arson investigators are concentrating on finding a link among the most recent seven because of the extensive dollar loss, said Deputy Chief Donald Anthony.

All seven of the fires were set at night at construction sites that are in the highly flammable “wrap” stage, when the wood frame is only partly wrapped in tar paper and not yet protected by dry wall.

Monthly Tours

Assistant Chief John Sampson said Tuesday that firefighters from each of the Valley division’s 40 fire stations have begun conducting monthly inspection tours of multiunit residential construction sites in their areas. He said the tours are part of a continuing fire prevention program created in response to the arson problem.

“Some of those projects are like a bunch of match sticks out there, so we’re hoping the inspection tours will prevent some incidents,” Sampson said. “In addition, we will be contacting the actual owners of the sites to discuss what they can combat arson with, things like hiring guards earlier, making sure fencing is in place, night lighting, an alarm system.”

Sampson said the inspection tours will also allow local firemen to become familiar with the construction projects in their areas in case a fire does hit one of the sites.

“By continually going back to these sites and reviewing them, it makes us better firefighters because we know where the water supply is and where the stairways are, and it keeps the owners up on what they could be doing,” he said.

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