Anaheim Settles With Victims of 1982 Firestorm

Times Staff Writer

Apartment dwellers who lost their homes more than three years ago when a firestorm raced through several blocks of apartment buildings in Anaheim have received the first in a series of settlement checks from the city that could total up to $3 million, officials said Wednesday.

The settlement with 128 families displaced by the blaze marks the conclusion of several years of negotiations under which the City of Anaheim will eventually pay an estimated $12 million to apartment building owners and tenants.

While the city a year ago paid about $8.8 million to insurance companies representing landlords and some of the more than 1,288 residents left homeless in the blaze, the most recent settlement covers the last group of plaintiffs not covered under previous settlements--those families who were either not insured or underinsured.

Four-Block Area Burned

The fire broke out shortly before dawn on April 21, 1982. Whipped by heavy Santa Ana winds, it quickly swept through a four-block area near Cerritos Avenue and Euclid Street, ultimately destroying 393 apartment units, one house and one business.

The roughly 14 lawsuits filed after the blaze sought damages of nearly $18.5 million, nearly all of them involving property loss.


Plaintiffs’ lawyers have claimed the city was negligent because a wire from a city-owned street light had been rubbing against an untrimmed palm tree, causing sparks to ignite fronds on the tree. Flames quickly jumped from rooftop to rooftop.

Under the terms of the recent settlement, actual settlements to families will be determined during individual conferences scheduled during the next few weeks.

Essentially, the city’s insurance carrier has agreed to pay 70% of the families’ property, out-of-pocket losses and, in some cases, loss of earnings. Families will be eligible for an additional $3,000 or more as compensation for emotional distress suffered by victims who were actually present during the fire.

‘A Fair Recovery’

In cases where agreement cannot be reached with tenants, the settlement calls for the issue to be submitted to an arbitrator for a final decision.

“I think this is a fair recovery in terms of the percentage of the loss, in view of the risk of any litigation and the cost of this particular type of litigation,” said Santa Ana attorney Jerrold Bloch, who represented the tenants.

“I think it’s one of the few times that a group of basically little people have not just sat back and said: ‘Well, I don’t have a chance to fight City Hall.’ They didn’t just sit back and say there’s nothing I can do.”

Vick Eitel, the attorney representing the city and its insurance carrier, said the city has already distributed checks to about 30 families under the most recent settlement. The remainder should be settled during the next few weeks, he said.