Today marks the 30th Anniversary of the deadliest apartment fire in Los Angeles history, the September 4, 1982 arson blaze at the Dorothy Mae Apartments.
Reported to the Los Angeles Fire Department at 4:26 AM, the fire set intentionally with 98-cents worth of gasoline erupted into a senseless inferno that took 25 lives - and brought profound change to our community and those who proudly protect it.
From the LAFD Historical Archive...
"The Dorothy Mae Apartment is a four-story, 50 ft. wide X 140 ft. deep, center hallway, of brick-joist construction that was built in 1927. Due to its location on an inclined lot, the first floor has only a foyer and boiler/laundry room located at the front of the building. The upper three floors contain 43 residential apartments occupied by approximately 170 people, almost all of whom were Spanish speaking. The building had the required Ponet doors and smoke detectors installed.While much has changed in our City in the past three decades, the impact of the Dorothy Mae Apartment Fire has only strengthened our commitment to prevent fire, protect persons from it - and when necessary, support the prosecution of those who would use it to cause harm.
ANALYSIS OF THE FIRE:
The fire started in the second floor hallway, just inside the front Ponet door by the use of a flammable liquid. It appears that it burned unnoticed for some time. It is not clear how occupants first became aware of the fire. Once alerted, occupants started evacuating, using the hallways. Indications are that a flashover or back-draft occurred, resulting in 18 fatalities on the second floor and third floor.
The Ponet doors at the front stairwell were closed, as was the Ponet door on the fourth floor at the rear stairs. The Ponet doors from the second floor hallway to the rear stairs, and the fourth floor stairs to the exterior fire escape were open. This allowed the fire to travel from the front of the second floor to the rear stairs, and the fourth floor stairs to the exterior fire escape were open. This allowed the fire to travel from the front of the second floor to the rear, up the stairs to the third floor hallway, and up the stairs to the fourth floor, and out the rear of the building on the fourth floor.
The Fire Department received a delayed alarm to this incident. The flashover/backdraft occurred prior to the Fire Department's arrival. Upon our arrival there were indications of a small fire at the rear, not the true extent of the fire that had taken place, nor the large number of fatalities and injuries that had occurred.
First arriving companies discovered the true situation upon entering the building at the rear. From the reports of bodies stacked in the stairwell..."
To learn more about the proud history of the Los Angeles Fire Department, visit our on-line historical archive and then plan your visit to the LAFD Museum in Hollywood.
To discover ways to keep your family safe from fire, plan a visit to your Neighborhood Fire Station today!
Submitted by Brian Humphrey, Spokesman
Los Angeles Fire Department