SAN PEDRO, Calif. (KTLA) – Investigators Tuesday began a criminal investigation into a motel fire in San Pedro, which injured at least 14 people, after finding clues suggesting the fire was intentionally set.
It was complete chaos early Tuesday at the San Pedro Motel after the 14-unit, two-story structure on the 1000 block of Palos Verdes Street went up in flames around 3:30 a.m.
“I was hearing a lot of yelling and screaming and stuff. I just panicked,” a resident said.
“The smoke was so thick I couldn’t see anything. There were two people in front of me and I couldn’t see them,” another resident added.
Residents desperately fled intense heat and smoke that billowed around them, as 150 firefighters tried battle the giant blaze.
“You had people hanging out of windows, some had broken out their windows, and you had one person who already jumped,” said Jaime Moore of L.A. City Fire.
Arson Investigators said the fire burned so fast and so hot that they believe it was deliberately set. Investigators, along with an accelerant-sniffing dog, were on scene hunting for a cause on the 1st floor where they believe the fire started.
A former resident, Justin Boyd, said that he was not surprised the fire happened.
“It’s a bad building health wise. It’s so bad, every Friday the health inspector comes to inspect all the rooms to make sure it’s up to code,” Boyd said.
The residential motel was built in 1923. KTLA spoke with Kris Mandalia, who had owed the motel for 10 years.
“We had a housing inspection last December. We passed,” Mandalia said.
L.A. City Fire said that there were working smoke detectors, but they were overcome by the heat.
“One stupid act from one stupid person and look how many people have to rearrange their living. And we run a good building,” Mandalia said.
The fire injured 14 people, 12 of whom were hospitalized, suffering injuries ranging from severe burns to smoke inhalation and broken bones.
Three of the victims were listed in critical condition – two said to be gravely injured – as of Tuesday afternoon.
The Red Cross was helping residents relocate.
Suspects in the fire could face charges from arson to attempted murder and possibly even murder.