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Probe of Fatal Blast Focuses on Heater

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Investigators have narrowed the source of last month’s deadly fire at the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s retirement home to the gas wall heater that had passed a maintenance worker’s inspection days earlier, said Battalion Chief Daryl Arbuthnott of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Motion Picture home officials declined to comment on the finding. Their own subsequent review of other heaters at the Woodland Hills complex found no problems, they said.

In another development, the home on Friday began replacing 15 leaking gas pipes at the recommendation of the Southern California Gas Co.

After the Feb. 26 fire, Gas Co. inspectors examined pipes leading into the home’s 63 cottages, said David Tillman, president and chief executive officer of the Motion Picture and Television Fund. After detecting leakage near the foundation of the units, the Gas Co. on Friday recommended that the home repair or replace 15 pipes, said Gas Co. spokeswoman Denise King.

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The retirement home shut off gas in the affected cottages, relocated some residents, called contractors and began replacing the lines, Tillman said.

“The message I want our residents to understand is our commitment to safety,” Tillman said. “They have been very understanding.”

Josephine Codd, 87, died Feb. 28 from burns suffered in an explosion and fire two days earlier. A retired studio nurse, Codd had complained of the smell of gas in her cottage for months, according to friends and relatives.

A week before the explosion, a maintenance worker inspected the heater in response to Codd’s complaint that she smelled gas, according to documents obtained by the state Department of Social Services, which regulates retirement homes.

The work order filled out by the worker said the “heater is working great.”

A spokesman for the Social Services Department said Friday that the explosion remains under investigation. Among other things, the agency is looking into whether the home maintenance workers were qualified to investigate the reported gas odor.

“Our main concern is that the people living there and family members feel comforted and safe,” agency spokeswoman Blanca Barna said. “At this point, there’s no sign of wrongdoing, but we have to learn from the incident.”

State officials last inspected the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in August, officials said. At that time, the facility received eight citations and was fined $300 for violations, such as a lack of “No Smoking, Oxygen Tanks in Use” signs.

The 40-acre retirement home and hospital is operated by the Motion Picture Retirement Fund for sick and retired TV and movie industry veterans.

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Times staff writer Michael Krikorian contributed to this story.


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