West LA apartment fire: High-rise building lacked sprinkler system. Why is it exempt?

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Questions are being raised about the safety of high-rise apartment buildings similar to the one in West Los Angeles where a fire erupted and left more than 10 people injured on Wednesday.

The fire at the apartment in the Sawtelle neighborhood does not have a sprinkler system.

Flames scaled the Barrington Plaza Wednesday morning and spread deadly smoke through several floors. A fire also broke out at the same building in October 2013.

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A dramatic fire erupted on the seventh floor of a high-rise apartment building on the Westside of Los Angeles on Wednesday morning, prompting a massive response from firefighters on ladder trucks and in helicopters.



The flames were contained to one unit on the 11th floor in that fire.

Ashley Turner rushed to building Wednesday from her nearby job. She says she moved into the building shortly after the 2013 fire and moved out two years later fearing the building wasn't safe.

"The units were equipped with a single fire extinguisher, just a standard issued one," Turner said. "In my mind that is nowhere near sufficient."

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A man was seen climbing horizontally across the facade of a 25-story building after crawling out of a window that was emitting an inferno of flames Wednesday.



Barrington Plaza was last inspected in June 2019 and any citations or violations were corrected.

Fire department officials tell Eyewitness News the high-rise is exempt from sprinkler system requirements because it was built in 1961. Los Angeles' fire safety rules don't require sprinklers for residential high-rise buildings built between 1943 and 1974.

According to documents obtained by Eyewitness News, in 2017 the L.A. Fire Prevention Bureau identified 55 buildings without sprinkler systems and created an aggressive action plan to inform building owners and tenants of the fire risks.

After the 2013 fire, nine victims filed and settled lawsuits against the building.

Attorney Shawn McCann told Eyewitness News jurors found Douglas Emmett, the building's management company, negligent and responsible for the plaintiffs' injuries.

"Douglass Emmett couldn't produce any evidence of doing fire drills that were required yearly, they couldn't produce any evidence that they had a certified fire safety director, which is required by the safety code," McCann said.

"They didn't have any evidence of having floor wardens, which are supposed to be designated for every floor of the building as well as not activating their audible safety instruction plan," he added. "When a fire occurs they're supposed to tell the residents exactly what they're supposed to do in that circumstance."
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