(December 10, 2006) -- People who fled for their lives returned to see what remained of their homes...using boxes, bags and anything else they could find to remove what they could for now.
And it was in North Long Beach in the 6400 block of Atlantic Ave...across from Jordan High School.
At midday Dec. 9, 200+ people assembled for a chance -- limited to about ten minutes due to safety concerns -- to enter the north building (140+ units) of the Paradise Garden apartment complex (319 units) that had been their home.
On December 8 shortly after 3:30 p.m., an accidental kitchen grease fire is believed to have gotten into a ventilation shaft which propelled fire through the northern end of the building. At one point, virtually all of LB's available fire resources were at the scene...and firefighters rescued people from balconies and put themselves in peril to prevent loss of the entire building.
The day after, residents returned to face an uncertain future a little over two weeks from Christmas. Many feared the loss of family treasures. Some searched for pets. One resident wondered if a five year project survived on her home computer.
North Division LBPD Sgt. Tim Lancaster kept the crowd updated...but had to announce delays as LBFD investigators documented, measured and recorded what they found...while LB Building and Safety officials assessed building damage and structural integrity.
Residents and media were permitted to enter the north building only after taking precautions: wearing a hardened hat and special boots...and then they were escorted by LBFD and limited to about ten minutes.
Although the north building is currently not habitable (see photos below), some found their individual apartments in remarkably good condition. Damage was spotty, with flames in some areas but sparing others. Some residents exited with possessions visibly damaged.
We saw some residents exiting with near dazed expressions while carrying bags and boxes of their possessions. One young woman walked and sobbed quietly as an LB Firefighter carried an armload of her personal possessions.
Building management, which was on scene the night of the fire to assist residents, said it would promptly refund north building residents' December rent as well as their security deposits.
LB Animal Control was also scene...after taking in many pets the day of the fire...now awaiting retrieval by owners.
9th district Councilman Val Lerch, who was also on scene for several hours on the night of the fire, spent the entire afternoon at the scene the day after, ensuring residents knew about available support services, including a Red Cross shelter across the street at Jordan High.
Councilman Lerch also brought some uplifting news: Ron Piazza, a prominent Lakewood area McDonalds operator, wanted to donate sandwiches to those affected and contacted former LB Councilman Frank Colonna, who put him in touch with LB's Red Cross...and the net result was 200 sandwiches for grateful residents with no kitchens for the moment. In addition, John Passanisi of WLB's Santa Fe Importers, donated 100 more sandwiches.
A KTTV/Fox11 news reporter spotted Councilman Lerch and grabbed a quick interview with him.
Near day's end, after most residents had completed their tasks, we donned LBFD-provided boots and entered the building guided by LBFD Public Information Officer Capt. Jim Arvizu. It was like a moonscape.
On the wall in the photo below, Capt. Arvizu points out areas (bottom to top) showing bands of smoke that filled the hallway: near the bottom, a foot or two off the ground, low-lying smoke (still capable of asphyxiating people), then hot smoke above it (up to about 800 degrees) and at head/face level while standing even hotter smoke (1,000+ degrees)...along with flames likely swirling through the hellish scene.