Two infants and a woman believed to be the grandmother of one of them died in separate Los Angeles-area fires, one of them blamed on a candle used in an apartment where the electricity had been turned off for non-payment, authorities said Wednesday.
Flames drove 15 residents from a two-story fourplex in South-Central Los Angeles shortly after midnight and trapped an upstairs resident and an infant boy, identified as Lorrell Allen, 11 months, in a back bedroom, where the bodies were found.
The coroner’s office withheld identification of the woman, but residents of the gutted stucco-and-wood building identified her as Mary Key, 63, Lorrell’s grandmother.
Dwayne Sudduth, 29, a friend of the dead woman, said he was sleeping in a front room of the apartment at 601 1/2 E. 27th St. when the sound of a smoke alarm jarred him awake and he heard screams and cries for help.
“I tried to get Miss Mary and her grandson, but the smoke took my breath away and I had to come out,” said Sudduth, standing in the debris-strewn front yard. “The last words I heard her say was, ‘Help. Somebody come and get me.’ ”
“It started off a candle on a crate,” Sudduth said. “The candle burned down and caught the crate on fire.”
Electricity was turned off in the apartment on Jan. 18, according to the Department of Water and Power. The Fire Department said the cause of the fire is under investigation.
Six fire companies and a rescue ambulance responded to the blaze, reported at 12:30 a.m. and extinguished by 1:03 a.m. Damage to the building and contents was estimated at $87,000.
Residents left homeless by the fire were provided shelter by the Red Cross at the Sand Piper Motel on South Central Avenue. At the motel, Nakima Whitley, a seventh grader at John Adams Junior High School, recalled the fire.
“It was scary,” she said. “My mom came and woke us up and we ran down the stairs. I heard a lot of screaming . . . The house just started blazing. Miss Mary and Lorrell couldn’t get saved.”
Portable Heater Blamed
In a second fire, a portable heater was blamed for starting a blaze late Tuesday that cost the life of 9-month-old Bianca Lashange Collins in an apartment at 11248 Mariposa Ave. in the unincorporated Athens area near South Los Angeles.
The child’s father, John Collins, 36, and two sheriff’s deputies from the Lennox substation, Richard Bowman and Craig Anderson, crawled on hands and knees into the burning apartment.
When Collins was overcome by smoke, the two deputies dragged the distraught father from the building and then returned in an effort to reach the child. But, sheriff’s officials said, the two deputies were driven back by intense heat and smoke. Both were treated for smoke inhalation, as was Collins, at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Hawthorne.
County firefighters put out the blaze in about a half hour, a spokesperson said.