As a chunk of the roof at a condominium complex at 425 Marine Drive melted and collapsed from a raging fire Saturday night, a woman trapped inside was on the line with a 9-1-1 dispatcher.

“They couldn’t get out because the fire was between them and the exit path,” said Santa Monica Fire Department PIO Captain Patrick Nulty.

As the first responders pulled up to the flaming complex, a live electrical power line stretched across the front of the structure. It was less than five minutes after the first 9-1-1 calls lit up dispatcher’s telephone lines at the police station and the roof was already coming down. The trapped woman’s phone call was the only way firefighters knew there was someone still inside.

“They knew structural compromise had already taken place and it was very dangerous to make entry into the building,” Nulty said.

Despite the danger, a team of firefighters ran down a neighboring side yard to get to the condominium located at the back of the property. The firefighters were able to get into her townhouse where the roof remained intact and bring the resident to safety.

The trapped woman and four of her neighbors lost their homes but did not require medical attention.

Video shared on social media showed flames shooting several stories into the air as neighbors evacuated their homes. Firefighters worried a single spark could spread the fire to other buildings. They immediately called for a second alarm, which brought in all remaining SMFD units along with additional personnel from the Los Angeles Fire Department.

It took 53 firefighters nearly two hours to put out the roaring fire that destroyed the six-million-dollar Ocean Park condos. The building has been red-tagged and investigators are focused on figuring out what sparked the blaze.

On Monday, firefighters were looking into hiring a crane to lift some of the wreckage out of the way so they could have a better look through the remaining debris.

“The cause won’t be known anytime soon because of the amount of damage,” Nulty said.

The co-op was constructed in 1975, according to real estate website Redfin, with a single two bedroom, two bathroom unit worth up to $1.3 million.

Firefighters responded to a fire at the same address last year on Dec. 13 but were able to contain that blaze to the first floor of one unit. The first fire broke out in a condo in the process of being remodeled and no one was home at the time. Neighbors were able to evacuate and were unharmed. All of them, however, were displaced because flames damaged the electrical feed and crews were unable to restore power.

Fire investigators are looking into a possible connection between the two incidents.


Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press