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Girl, 2, is among the injured in apartment-complex fire near downtown

May 8, 2010 |  4:21 pm

 Thirteen people were injured near downtown Los Angeles during an early-morning fire at an apartment complex Saturday, including a woman who broke a leg leaping from an upper floor and a 2-year-old girl who suffered third-degree burns but is expected to survive, city fire officials said.

Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Steve Ruda said the blaze broke out on the second floor and provoked creative efforts to escape. One person tied together a karate belt, a blanket and a power cord and anchored it to a room fixture, Ruda said. He said it was unclear whether anyone used the makeshift rope.

In that apartment, “there were four plates of breakfast on the table, beans, tortillas and eggs. So they were eating breakfast one moment and try to use whatever they could to escape the next,” Ruda said.

The fire broke out about 8:45 a.m. at the three-story, 42-unit apartment building at 255 S. Loma Drive, near Belmont High School just west of downtown. The city Fire Department sent in more than 100 firefighters to battle the flames and rescue tenants. The fire was put out in less than half an hour.

Ruda said the toddler who was critically burned lived in an apartment directly opposite from where the fire started.

In fires like this, Ruda said, the best thing to do generally is to stay in the apartment and wait for help near the window. Hanging a sheet outside of a window lets firefighters know that someone needs to be rescued inside. Place wet towels down to seal the crack of the door, he said. People can also purchase chain ladders to help them escape a fire, Ruda said.

“But under panic conditions, it’s hard to be patient,” he said. “It must seem like hours.”

Ruda said arson investigators are probing for a cause of the blaze.

This type of building, with central hallways, has seen multiple fire fatalies in the past. One of the worst occurred just around the corner, on Sunset Boulevard and Figueroa Street, in 1983. That fire claimed 25 lives, Ruda said. The fire had caused residents to panic and run into the hallway and exit doors, where people stacked up amid smoke and encroaching flames.

“It was one of the most horrific things I ever saw, people stuck in the doorway, those stacked at the top burned so badly,” he said. “The people stacked in the bottom were alive.”

Ruda said the 1983 fire led to an ordinance that required such buildings to install heat-detecting devices that trigger hallway doors to close so that smoke can be contained. Those devices were effective in Saturday's fire, Ruda said.

-- Hector Becerra

Photo: KTLA