SOUTH GATE : Fatal Fire Prompts Smoke Detector Law

In response to a fire that ripped through a rental guest house, killing four people and injuring four others, the City Council unanimously passed an emergency ordinance requiring smoke detectors in all residential rental units.

State law requires smoke detectors in all multifamily dwelling units, but the new city ordinance requires that detectors approved by the county fire marshal be installed and maintained in all rental units except those that are owner-occupied.

"If we would have known smoke detectors were required, they would have been there," Felipe Soto, 18, a co-owner of the fire-gutted rental unit, told the council. The single-family unit was not covered by state law. "This ordinance would be a reassurance that something like this wouldn't happen to anyone else."

The Sept. 13 fire started after 6-year-old Eddie Hernandez, who was playing with a lighter, ignited the guest home's lace curtains, said Juana Hernandez, 39, who survived the blaze that engulfed the $500-a-month unit.

Eddie was pronounced dead at the scene by county fire officials. In the days after the blaze, Maria Castillo, 35, her daughter Erica, 8, and Hernandez's daughter Jessica, 2, also died of their injuries.

County fire inspectors said they were unsure last week whether smoke detectors would have made a difference in such a quick-spreading fire.

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