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3 Die in Fire in Apartment; Pair Escape

Times Staff Writer

Despite frantic efforts to escape a fast-moving fire of suspicious origin, three people died early Saturday in a four-bedroom Redondo Beach apartment that had no smoke detectors, authorities said.

With the screams of their housemates audible, two others managed to escape--one climbing down from a one-story balcony, the other charging out a first-floor door just ahead of the flames.

Dave William, 29, one of the survivors, said he tried unsuccessfully to rouse two people sleeping upstairs once he realized that the apartment, at 1215 Beryl St., was on fire about 2:30 a.m.

Flames Reach Roof

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One of them “kind of half-waked and mumbled something,” William said. William said he looked out and saw flames reaching to the roof and decided to flee.

“I didn’t want to get stuck too,” he said. Assisted by a stock boy from a supermarket across the street, he clambered down from the balcony.

Roger Coloma, who escaped out the front door, said he was awakened by “the pop of glass. . . . It was so quick. It was like an inferno. If I had waited five minutes, I would be dead.”

Coloma and William said that once they got clear, they yelled for the others to wake up, but it was too late.

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“I heard them crying, ‘Help! Oh, my God!”’ Coloma said.

Without providing details, Redondo Beach Fire Dept. Capt. Stephen Nothern said fire investigators had concluded that the fire may have been deliberately set.

Nothern said a possible factor in the loss of life was the lack of smoke detectors in the apartment. A state law requiring them in rental units went into effect Jan. 1, Nothern noted.

The fire official said the three who died would have had a better chance of surviving if smoke detectors had been in place. The state fire marshal will be informed of the apparent violation, he added.

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The victims had not been officially identified late Saturday, but William and Coloma named them as David Weisman, in his early 20s, a captain on a charter fishing boat; Lana Scudder, 21, an employee of the Red Onion restaurant chain, and Jim Wooden, 26, an electrical engineer who worked for Hughes Aircraft Co.

An Owner Views Scene

Elsa Baraney, one of the owners of the four-unit apartment building, came to the scene several hours after the fire, but declined to say why there were no smoke detectors in the apartment.

The apartment served as a gathering place for a number of neighborhood youths, according to neighbors and acquaintances. Al Galang, a resident in the building, said parties were frequent, and another neighbor said police had been called several times to quiet things down.

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Coloma, 32, a USC graduate from Palm Springs who works as an inspector of missile parts for British Petroleum Co., said he rented the apartment for $1,200 a month and in turn rented out rooms to a changing collection of roommates. He acknowledged that a number of people felt free to drop in, adding that the door to the apartment was rarely locked.


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