Candle Fire Kills Girl; Home Had Power Cut Off

Times Staff Writer

A 9-year-old Lennox girl was killed and her 12-year-old brother critically injured in a fire apparently started by a candle the children lighted after the family's electricity was cut off for non-payment of bills, fire officials said.

Tammy Tiggs died in the late Thursday night fire in a bungalow that she shared with her brother, Antwon Tiggs; sister, Vernicia Bolts, 17, and their mother, LaVerne Williams.

Antwon, who suffered smoke inhalation and severe lung damage, was listed in critical condition Friday at Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles.

Neighbors and sheriff's officials said Williams was away at a Los Angeles church where she is active and had left Vernicia to watch the other children when the fire broke out at the home. The residence is located in the unincorporated community south of Inglewood.

Power Turned Off

A Southern California Edison Co. worker turned off the home's power just after noon on Thursday because a $34.86 electric bill was two months overdue, said Bob Bridenbecker, a vice president for the utility. The family also owed $21.64 for a bill due a month ago, he said.

Williams received three notices warning that her electricity would be turned off if she did not pay, Bridenbecker said. Family members had said they would go to Edison's offices Thursday afternoon to pay an $80 fee to have the power restored, Bridenbecker said, but they did not show up.

Williams, who was staying with a friend, could not be reached for comment.

Vernicia told fire investigators that she blew out several candles before going to bed but may have left one burning, said Los Angeles County Fire Department spokeswoman Deborah Shackelford. Investigators speculated that the candle ignited a couch or the carpet.

Vernicia told investigators that she was awakened by smoke and escaped out a bedroom window, but the two younger children continued to sleep.

Two Inglewood police officers and a civilian cadet patroling in the area saw smoke shortly after 11:30 p.m. and rushed to the house at 11028 Grevillea Ave., where they met two sheriff's deputies responding to a neighbor's 911 call.

Trapped Inside

Hearing Vernicia's screams that her brother and sister were trapped inside, the officers kicked down the back door, sheriff's spokeswoman Kathryn Nielsen said. They were driven back at first by intense heat and smoke but finally managed to pull Antwon through a window.

Tammy was found dead in a bathtub, where she apparently sought refuge. Her body was discovered after the fire was extinguished just after midnight.

The two deputies and two Inglewood officers suffered minor injuries during the rescue and were treated and released at a local hospital, Nielsen said.

A bungalow adjoining the gutted structure was damaged slightly by the flames, but the family of seven sleeping inside smelled the smoke and escaped.

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