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Fire at hillside rental property destroys home, claims life of occupant

la canada fatal fire
A rental property on a hillside abutting La Cañada Flintridge was completely consumed by fire the night before, at 2121 Crescent Ave., in Montrose photographed on Tuesday, Nov. 19. A longtime resident lost his life in the fire.
(Raul Roa / La Cañada Valley Sun)

A house fire that broke out Monday night at a hillside rental property near La Cañada’s Rockmere Way and was temporarily battled by neighbors with garden hoses took the life of the man who lived inside, fire officials reported.

Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Scott Pugh of Station No. 19 in La Cañada said the call of a structure fire at 2121 Crescenta Ave. in Montrose came in at around 11:36 p.m. Firefighters had a difficult time accessing the blaze from the main home below, however, because the cabin was far up a hillside.

“The sheriff’s department helped us out and directed us to a better, more accessible location on Rockmere,” he said. “Once we got [there,] it took approximately 15 minutes for knockdown.”

la canada fatal fire
The interior of the tiny cabin in the aftermath of Monday night’s fire.
(Raul Roa / La Cañada Valley Sun)
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The blaze was reportedly extinguished by 12:04 a.m., Pugh said. That’s when firefighters discovered a body believed to be the occupant of the 300-square-foot home and called the L.A. County Coroner’s office.

As of Tuesday morning, the man’s identity and total estimate of property and content loss had yet to be determined.

Neighbors at the scene of the fire said the structure was a backyard cabin that predates most of the houses built around it and could only be accessed by the occupant from the driveway of the main house on Crescent Avenue.

“It’s a small cabin house that was here before the tract was built in 1961,” said Ahlin Drive resident Cynthia Redden, who grew up in the area and moved back four years ago. “[The owners] rented it out to one guy. It was pretty small.”

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La Cañada resident Jon Stein, whose Rockmere Way home abuts the tiny residence, said he was alerted by the smell of smoke and went out to check the front and side yards. Seeing nothing, he went back inside and was alerted 10 minutes later by the frantic knocking of a neighbor from up the street.

The cabin behind his back fence was on fire.

la canada fatal fire
The exterior of the rental property on a hillside abutting La Cañada Flintridge that was gutted by fire Monday night.
(Raul Roa/La Cañada Valley Sun)

“You could see there was a fire inside. But it wasn’t roaring,” said Stein, who was dousing his backyard fence, the cabin roof and a nearby oak when the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s and Fire departments arrived on scene. “They came through my garage with hoses.”

While the exterior of the building remained largely intact, the interior had been devastated by the blaze. Doors ripped from their hinges were strewn on the hillside and the interior walls, floor and cabinets were little more than ash.

Burnt and twisted mattress coils near the door indicated where a bed had been, and a wall between the main living area and bathroom was gaping and charred around the edges.

Redden said although there are several old homes in the hillside around Ahlin Drive, fires are a rarity. One small canyon blaze a few years ago, near La Cañada’s Glenhaven Park, is the only incident she could recently recall.

As to the occupant of the structure, neighbors described him as a quiet man who lived there for many years and kept to himself.

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“He was always by himself,” said Joe Porta, who said the man had lived there for at least three decades. “He’d walk in and out — he was very away from society.”

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