Westlake motel residents pick up the pieces after Christmas fire
Residents create a ‘human ladder’ to save themselves from motel blaze in Los Angeles’ Westlake district.
Robert Lindsay smelled smoke Christmas night as he walked through the light green courtyard of the JJ Park Motel Residence.
He took a bag of groceries to his room — where his 10-year-old son, Kanyae, was watching a basketball game — and went back outside.
“That’s when I saw the flames on the building,” Lindsay said. “People were running around knocking on doors trying to alert others. I saw some people jumping out of the windows.”
On Friday, Lindsay and his son stood inside a scorched hallway with other tenants as he recalled the chaotic scene. Management said the fire left more than 50 people displaced after flames swept through the residential motel in Westlake. Fire officials say two of the six people injured were in critical condition, suffering from burns and smoke inhalation.
Lindsay said it was a blessing that no one died.
“Thank you, God, thank you, God,” he said as he looked over the damage.
George Noumer, 53, the director of operations at the motel, said most of the people affected by the fire are longtime tenants. He said many of them were allowed to stay at a nearby motel for the night, and he plans to coordinate with the Red Cross about providing long-term housing for those residents.
“This is going to knock me to the ground for a bit,” said Charles Stewart, 57, a part-time telemarketer, who put clothes into a gray trash bag in his smoke-damaged room. He said he didn’t know where he would be staying.
The night before, residents at the motel at 3rd and Bonnie Brae streets near MacArthur Park had to quickly find ways to escape.
They tied bedsheets together to climb out of smoke-filled apartments. Others used sheer strength to hold residents up on their shoulders and created a “human ladder” to help people escape, fire officials said.
Firefighters credited a smoke alarm system for quickly alerting residents to the fire and giving people time to escape.
Senior Arson Investigator David Liske believes the fire began about 6 p.m. in a second-floor unit near a kitchen stove.
“While the cause of the fire appears to be accidental, the investigation will continue,” he said in a statement.
Fire, smoke and water damaged 25 units of the 135-unit building.
About 100 firefighters fought the blaze and rescued people in wheelchairs. After ventilating the roof and running hose lines through winding stairwells, they extinguished the blaze in 21 minutes.
A large pile of burned furniture and rubble from the roof had been placed at the back of the motel’s courtyard. Along an alley, a green curtain dangled from one of the windows of a damaged room.
The apartment where the fire appeared to have originated was gutted. Pots on a blackened stove were melted and cabinets scorched. Outside the doorway, an electric scooter had melted down to the wheels.
On Friday morning, Noumer escorted some of the tenants to their rooms to pick up personal items.
Among them was Cornelius Gardner, 57, a security guard who walked inside his room to see fire damage to the front door and a small section of the kitchen.
“I feel blessed,” he said as he inspected his room. “But the main thing is that no one was hurt.”
Stewart, who lives two doors down from Gardner, said he was returning from a friend’s house when he saw the flames.
“I was praying to God that no one was hurt and that my place was OK,” he said
He said it was unfortunate the fire occurred on Christmas Day.
“The holiday was just fine until all of a sudden,” he said before pausing. “It’s an inconvenience to everybody.”
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