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L.B. elderly couple killed in house fire

March 8, 2010 12:02:36 AM PST
Two elderly people were killed in a house fire in Long Beach that may have spread more quickly because of apparent pack-rat conditions.Firefighters responded to a call of heavy smoke from a single-family home on the corner of 5th Street and Grand Avenue at about 2:40 a.m. Monday. When they arrived, they found that the flames in the home were spreading quickly.

"All across the front on the porch, just orange red, the whole thing, just completely engulfed, and then [I] heard like a big pop, and flames started coming up out of the roof of the house," said neighbor Marilyn Payne.

Firefighters were able to knock down the fire in about 20 minutes, but they said they found a lot of junk strewn about, making it difficult for rescuers. The bedroom was packed three feet high with so many items, firefighters had trouble getting in and out.

"Once inside, you know, you got to figure a hallway is four feet wide, and then narrow that down about two feet, it's tough to get through," said Joshua Johnson of the Long Beach Fire Department. "It makes it tough for us to get our hose lines through, and obviously, searching for victims."

The inside of the home was just about gutted by flames.

"Well he's an art teacher and he had a lot of paint, I don't know if that was a problem or not," said one neighbor.

The cause of the fire has not been determined. Firefighters believe it started in the living room and then spread quickly throughout the home.

"They had a lot of pictures and papers and books, and all kinds of clothes and whatnot," Johnson said.

The names of the victims have not been released.

The home is in the historic neighborhood of Belmont Heights. Neighbor Gary Woodruff said the couple kept to themselves and rarely spoke to other neighbors.

"They would cover up their cars and lock the covers on," Woodruff said. "There was some behavior of a very private type of behavior going on."

Firefighters spent hours cleaning up the mess inside the house and then boarded up the windows. They removed dozens of containers full of debris, which investigators have to sift through.