L.A. Fire Puts Focus on Safety Procedures

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APARTMENT dwellers should periodically stage their own fire drills. Residents should be sure fire doors are kept closed.

As mundane as these suggestions are, they can save lives in conflagrations - and are among the lessons to emerge in the wake of one of this city's worst fires in modern history.

Investigators are trying to pinpoint the cause of a blaze that swept through an apartment building near downtown Los Angeles Monday, killing at least 10 people, five of them children. Some 40 others were injured, mainly from smoke inhalation.

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Many residents jumped to safety from the three-story building. Others scurried down firefighters' ladders. Dozens of families were left homeless by the blaze.

Questions were quick to surface. Did all smoke detectors work? Why was a fire door in one of the corridors apparently propped open? The doors are designed to block blazes. But apartment dwellers often keep them ajar for ventilation.

The open door allowed smoke and superheated gases to spread quickly. The fire did its damage in less than 30 minutes - the time it took firefighters to extinguish it.

The 40-unit building, though relatively new, didn't have a sprinkler system. It isn't required to, but firefighters are once again underscoring the importance of sprinklers, which they say would have saved lives in this case.

One other plea they are making: Apartment residents should review emergency evacuation procedures, especially with their children.

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