A “suspicious” fire erupted on the seventh floor of a 25-story apartment building in West Los Angeles Wednesday, prompting at least two residents to contemplate leaping from balconies and leaving eight people injured, including a 3-month-old infant.
The flames were reported in the Barrington Plaza Apartments at 11740 W. Wilshire Blvd. at 8:37 a.m. and were extinguished at 9:56 a.m., according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
The fire began on the building’s seventh floor, which is the sixth “residential” floor above the building’s lobby, said Brian Humphrey of the LAFD. The flames also affected the sixth, eighth and ninth floors of the building.
The fire erupted about two hours after an apparently unrelated blaze broke out in a commercial building roughly three blocks away, and investigators were working to determine if the two fires were connected.
LAFD Deputy Chief Armando Hogan said firefighters who were mopping up the earlier fire spotted the flames in the nearby Barrington Plaza building. Flames and heavy smoke could be seen pouring out of the building, and there were early reports of people jumping from balconies in an attempt to escape the blaze.
Hogan said nobody actually jumped, but arriving fire crews found two people who were contemplating a leap. Video from the scene showed one man clinging to the exterior of the building.
“We got on our public address system and let them know to stay there,” Hogan said. “… No one jumped.”
An air mattress was deployed at the base of the building as a precaution. Fire crews used a ladder to rescue the man clinging to the building.
Hogan said most of the eight injuries were due to smoke inhalation.
LAPD Capt. Erik Scott said two adults suffered critical injuries and a 3-month-old child suffered injuries described only as non-critical. Of the eight, six were taken to hospitals. Fire officials earlier described one of the patients as “grave.”
LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas did not discuss a possible cause of the fire, but called it “suspicious.”
“We have some information I can’t share with you right now, but it is suspicious right now,” he said shortly after the fire was knocked down.
At the height of the fire, LAFD helicopter crews were hoisting people from the roof of the burning building, something Terrazas called a seldom-used option.
“We have rarely done rooftop evacuations for medical purposes — rarely,” he said. “But I’ll tell you, we did it today. It’s a valuable resource for our helicopters to not only do rooftop evacuations, but we also use these same helicopters for brush fire water-dropping capability. So it worked very effectively. We trained on this many times over the course of the year.”
A total of 15 people were hoisted from the roof, LAFD officials said. A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department helicopter crew also assisted in the operation, according to the sheriff’s department.
At one point, firefighters who scrambled up the stairs of the burning building crawled on their hands and knees through smoke-filled corridors and apartments, while crews outside the building set up hose lines to being dousing the fire from the exterior. Terrazas said he was “extremely pleased” with the success of the “unconventional tactics” used to battle the fire.
Two residents who were sleeping in an 11th-floor apartment told KNX Newsradio they heard what sounded like a pair of explosions that woke them up. One of the residents said he thought there may have been gunfire in the building, but when he saw and smelled the smoke he knew a fire had erupted. His girlfriend said the pair quickly got dressed, grabbed several pet cats and made their way out of the building.
About 335 firefighters fought the blaze.
After the fire was knocked down, crews began conducting a floor-to-floor search of the building to ensure there were no other injuries or people who need assistance.
“We will be here probably until tomorrow in terms of making sure that all of the people that need some assistance or our help with re-housing and relocation,” Terrazas said.
An American Red Cross evacuation center established at Westwood Recreation Center, 1350 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Police warned the public that traffic in the area of Wilshire Boulevard and Barrington Avenue was likely to be tied up for at least 24 hours while the investigation is conducted into the fires.
Police urged residents with videos related to either fire to provide the videos to investigators.
The Barrington Plaza building is no stranger to fire. On Oct. 18, 2013, a fire in the building heavily damaged an 11th-story apartment and left nearly a dozen people injured, including three firefighters and a critically injured 2-year-old girl who was found in a smoke-filled stairwell on the 23rd floor.
Firefighters were sent to the complex about 11:45 a.m. that day, and extinguished the flames in an hour and 11 minutes. Despite what appeared to be two distinct plumes of smoke coming from the building, fire officials said the blaze was contained to a single two-bedroom apartment.
The 240-unit building was built in 1961 and was not equipped with a sprinkler system, because it was grandfathered in and not required to be so equipped, according to the LAFD.
After a months-long investigation, fire officials ultimately said they could not determine an exact cause of the 2013 fire, but said it was “most probably” sparked by “discarded smoking material.”