Plumbing Work Cause of Pico Rivera Apartment Fire

PICO RIVERA (CNS) - For the second day, hundreds of residents of a Pico Rivera apartment complex that was damaged in a raging three-alarm fire likely sparked by plumbing work are out of a home amid cold weather.

Officials said Friday the displaced won't be able to return home for at least a few days and the wait will be even longer for those who lived in the most heavily damaged of the facility's four buildings.

The blaze, which started at 3:35 p.m. Thursday at the Corsica Apartment Homes in the 9100 block of Burke Street, caused minor injuries to a firefighter and two civilians while displacing about 300 people and many pets.

``All indications (are) the Pico Rivera apartment fire most likely (was) caused by plumbing work,'' sheriff's officials said Friday morning.

The investigation was being conducted by the sheriff's department and the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

About 220 firefighters battled the blaze for hours. The first-arriving units saw thick smoke coming from the most heavily affected building and found heavy fire inside a vacant apartment, fire department Inspector Gustavo Medina said.

The flames made their way into the structure's common attic, according to Medina, who said the fire then spread quickly.

Crews were forced to back out of the building, take up a defensive posture and pour heavy water streams onto the flames from outside the structure.

By 5 p.m., the bulk of the visible flames had been replaced with billowing smoke, and by 7:35 p.m., the fire had been contained, although firefighters continued to put out hot spots late into the night.

A woman and one other person suffered smoke inhalation and were taken to a hospital, as was a firefighter who suffered from heat exhaustion.

More than 141 apartment units were affected by the blaze, 45 of them with fire and smoke damage.

The American Red Cross was summoned to assist evacuated residents, who were directed to an emergency shelter at Rivera Park at 9530 Shade Lane.

At a mid-morning news conference Friday, Pico Rivera Mayor Gustavo Camacho thanked the public for their support of the affected residents.

``By 5 o'clock (Thursday) we had residents from throughout the community bringing water, food, clothing -- just a variety of different items; diapers,'' Camacho said. ``And so, I'm very thankful for the community and the individuals that acted so quickly ... to help their neighbors in need.''

The complex's eastern building ``had fire damage to the third floor, significant water and smoke damage to the first and second (floors) ... and then we had the fire in the attic, and that collapsed into the third floor,'' Los Angeles County Fire Department Assistant Chief Nick Duvally said.

``The other three buildings, we were able to save the vast majority of those three buildings, so the fire did not get into those buildings.''

One building did not sustain any damage but its residents won't be able to return home until the complex's master gas meter is repaired, which will take three to five days, Camacho said.

In the interim, deputies will escort residents into their apartments to gather essential items, officials said.

Two buildings sustained significant damage to units on either end of the structure. Those will be red-tagged as uninhabitable and while the balance of the units were undamaged, residents won't be able to reoccupy them until destroyed stairways are replaced, a process expected to take place over the next several days.

City officials are working with property owners to provide hotel vouchers for displaced residents for as long they need shelter.

Donations of items such as cellphone chargers, dog food, school supplies, pet leashes, lip balm, hair brushes, men's undershirts, women's undergarments in plus sizes, bath towels continue to be needed, as are volunteers to help sort clothing donations.

Information for displaced residents is available by calling the city's Fire Victim Resource Center at (562) 801-4454.

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