A Second Street building that caught fire on Friday sat empty on Monday after inspectors yellow-tagged the building. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

DOWNTOWN — The fire that displaced elderly and disabled residents of a Downtown apartment complex over the weekend was caused by a lit cigarette, fire officials say.

According to Capt. Judah Mitchell, spokesperson for the Santa Monica Fire Department, an elderly resident fell asleep while smoking a cigarette, which lit the oxygen tubing next to him on fire.

The small blaze spread from the tube to other objects in the apartment, despite the attempts of the resident to put the fire out, Mitchell said.

Although the fire was contained to a single room in the back of the apartment building, inspectors yellow-tagged the building, said City Hall Inspections Supervisor John Guerrero.

That means residents can only go in to gather their personal belongings, and have to find accommodations while they wait for repairs to be finished on the interior.

Much of the damage occurred when firefighters went into the building to evacuate residents.

Firefighters went door-to-door to ensure no one was left in the building. If no one answered, firefighters broke the doors down to verify that the room was empty.

Given the condition of the doors and the fact that fire and safety alarms are not operational yet, residents haven’t been allowed to reoccupy the building, Guerrero said.

On Friday, the American Red Cross of Santa Monica stepped in and opened an emergency shelter at the Santa Monica High School cafeteria that served 26 residents on Friday and Saturday nights, said Monica Diaz, spokeswoman for the organization.

Approximately 35 people were at the shelter during the day for meals, and health care and mental health volunteers were on hand, she said.

The shelter closed down on Sunday afternoon, at which point the apartment manager told the Red Cross that the residents would be put up in hotels, Diaz said.

Fire officials responded to a call about the fire at 4:46 p.m. Friday afternoon.

The fire began on a first floor unit, and residents evacuated out of windows and fire escapes.

Eight SMFD units responded, as well as three Los Angeles City fire units and four ambulances.

No residents needed to be transported to the hospital.

The operation went smoothly, in part because firefighters have trained specifically for that building because of its unusual U-shape, Mitchell said.


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