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UPDATED: Fire sends 20 people packing

Posted: November 3, 2008 11:51 a.m.
Updated: January 4, 2009 5:00 a.m.
An apartment fire sent 20 people scrambling to safety and one man to the hospital with second-degree burns over 40 percent of his body Sunday night, a sheriff's official said.

The fire broke out inside a unit belonging to Richard Leech in the 27300 block of Palo Verde Place in Canyon Country at about 9:30 p.m., said Sgt. Ron Price of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station.

The smoke quickly enveloped eight more units in the complex, he said.

"Sheriff's arson and explosive unit is investigating, but at this time it looks like an accident," Price said.

The fire engulfed one unit and the smoke damaged eight more apartments, he said.

Oricia Garcia saw the smoke billowing from the downstairs apartment. "I was standing outside and ran back in to grab my kids," she said. Her son Christopher, 5, and her infant, Jennifer, were sleeping inside Garcia's second story apartment.

"The smoke was coming through the walls," Garcia said pointing to a gap between the shower head and the shower stall molding where smoke spilled into her apartment. Cradling Jennifer in her arms and holding Christopher by the hand, Garcia dashed down the stairs and hoped the fire wouldn't burn her home.

"There were big flames coming from the other apartment. The guy in that apartment was burned really bad," she said.

Paramedics hurried Leech, 57, to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital for treatment Sunday night before being transferred to Sherman Oaks Burn Center, where he remains in critical condition. The damage done by the fire and smoke made Leech's apartment uninhabitable, Price said.

The Red Cross provided temporary housing to those affected by the fire, Price said.

Garcia turned down help from the Red Cross and stayed with her sister Sunday night.

Garcia sat in her kitchen Monday afternoon The apartment escaped the flames, but not the overwhelming smell of smoke. Garcia watched clean-up crews try to get the stench and stain from the smoke out of her carpet. She can't get the fear from Sunday night out of her head. "There so much I want to say, but can't," she said.

Garcia's new challenge is how to recover. "My clothes and my house smell like smoke. I don't have enough money to get all these clothes cleaned," she said. The smoke smell soaked into Garcia's Arby's work uniform.

"It'll take us two more hours to clean up and get the smell out of the carpet and couch," said Repogio Granados, Quality Carpet Care employee. Garcia is undecided whether she would stay in the smoky apartment Monday night.

"I don't know. I don't have nowhere to go," she said.


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