151. Fire Kills Two Young Girls

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Two sisters, four and six years old, died in a late-night fire that started because of an overloaded power strip. The girls were in an unattached garage that had been illegally converted into an apartment. The new apartment did not conform to Los Angeles City building codes. "Such illegal apartments are becoming an epidemic in LA," said Mayor Gregory Peck. "They endanger not only the renters, but also all their neighbors."

The apartment did not have a single window. There was only one outlet; plugged into that outlet was a cheap power strip. Plugged into the strip were a TV, a small refrigerator, a portable heater, two lamps, and a hair dryer. That was a recipe for a fire, said one fireman.

The 14-year-old sister who was in charge—their mom worked nights—was in the house when the fire started. She had been using the bathroom. The toilet in the apartment was not working at the time. As she was returning to the apartment, she heard crackling noises. Before she could open the apartment door, flames shot out from the walls. The fire spread to the house before the fire department arrived. Firemen said that neither the apartment nor the house had smoke detectors.

Three days later, on January 11, the city fire department announced that it was giving away free smoke detectors to needy city residents. Also, the city housing authority warned residents that it was going to step up the search for illegal conversions. "Property owners will be forced to tear down such structures immediately, at their own cost, and pay a significant fine," said a spokesman.


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