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    Heroism In Face Of Horror: Hellish Blaze In 140+ Unit NLB Apartment Bldg; Two Dead, Two Transported In Critical Condition; Residents Rescued From Balconies As Flames & Smoke Pour From Structure; Fire Resources From Outside LB Summoned To Cover City As LBFD Converges on NLB

    (December 9, 2006) -- A horrifying, hellish blaze in a 140+ unit NLB apartment building in the 6400 block of Atlantic Ave. (part of a 319 unit complex across the street from Jordan High School) has left two people dead, two transported to a hospital in critical condition and others (including at least five firefighters) injured in a ferocious fire that began on Friday afternoon (Dec. 8) and continued past nightfall.

    LB firefighters arrived to find smoke and flames pouring from the building, rescued residents from balconies and attacked the fire in scenes telecast live on multiple L.A. television outlets...whose viewers may not have realized that LB firefighters were at that moment putting their lives at real parts of the burning structure were feared at possible risk of collapse.

    LBFD Capt. Jim Arvizu, a veteran of years of blazes accustomed to briefing media, paused momentarily in describing to us the heroism he'd personally witnessed by LB firefighters earlier in the day. "They refused to give up," he said [firefighters shift to a defensive mode if attacking the flames is fruitless]," he said. "It's a miracle more lives weren't lost and that this building is still standing."

    Capt. Arvizu said initial indications [investigation ongoing] are that a grease fire -- an accidental blaze -- spread to the building's ventilation system and extended from there.

    As the first LBFD units rolled to the scene, Capt. Arvizu said they could already see a large header [big smoke plume, not a good sign] after the call came in at about 3:49 p.m. They arrived to find a nightmarish sight: residents chased onto their balconies by flames and smoke spreading in the three story building. LB firefighters rescued people from balconies as LBFD sounded a second alarm (calling for more units).

    That was followed by a third alarm...and a fourth alarm [!] as the virtually the entire city's available fire resources were deployed to the scene in NLB.

    LB requested (and received) fire resources (mutual aid) from jurisdictions outside LB to ensure coverage for the rest of the city during the emergency, Capt. Arvizu said.

    9th district Councilman Val Lerch arrived on scene within minutes and was joined shortly thereafter by LB Mayor Bob Foster, Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal, Fire Chief Dave Ellis, LBPD Police Chief Anthony Batts, LBPD North Division Commander Scott Robertson converged at the site. Councilman Lerch asked that he be allowed to "suit up" to render assistance (LBFD thanked him but declined) and then remained at the scene for hours into the night.

    The building's owners rushed to the scene to assist tenants. LB's Red Cross set up an emergency shelter across the street at Jordan High's gym to offer an estimated 200+ residents an overnight roof over their head although many managed to find places with friends or family.

    At least five residents were transported to hospitals; five were treated on scene and declined transport;...and five firefighters suffered various injuries including burns, debris in their eyes and other injuries [these are experienced, suited-up firefighters, giving some indication of the magnitude of the fire.]

    Veteran NLB activist Dan Pressburg, a former aide to Councilman Lerch (who has been critical of the Councilman at various times) said Lerch "showed his true character" in seriously offering to suit up and go into the building. "When he sees an emergency, he springs into action and wants to help people in trouble, pure and simple." Mr. Pressburg noted that Councilman Lerch remained at the scene for hours into the night.

    At 10:40 p.m., Atlantic Ave., LBFD and emergency crews still filled Atlantic Ave. stretching from Artesia Blvd. south to Harding.

    Water was everywhere. Firefighters were exhausted...and still working.

    When the fire broke out, was in downtown LB court (covering the Halloween night beating trial) when Fox11 reporter Tricia Takasugi bolted from the courtroom, paged by her desk (so we realized something was up although we stuck with the trial). On learning of the fire, we paged LBFD's media contacts which didn't respond because they were understandably swamped (and in Capt. Arvizu's case, suited up in what amounted to a full scale war against the fire).

    NLB fire Dec. 8/06It was nearly 11 p.m. when reporter Takasugi wrapped up her Fox11 live shot after hours at the scene with news crews that included CBS2/KCAL9, NBC4, KTLA/5, ABC7 and Spanish language outlet KMEX/34.

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