Fire Ravages Historic Houses In Highland Park

By Gloria Alvarez EGP Managing Editor

Fire damaged two historic houses in Highland Park Tuesday, but firefighters prevented the flames from spreading to an adjacent apartment building.

Firefighters sent to the 200 block of North Avenue 53 at about 9:45 a.m. extinguished the flames in one hour and 10 minutes, said Peter Sanders of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The fire could be seen from downtown Los Angeles, prompting a big response from the department, Sanders told EGP at the scene. LAFD considered this a major incident and deployed over 100 firefighters to fight the blaze and keep it from spreading to nearby homes, Sanders said.

Flames quickly spread from one historic house on Avenue 23 in Highland Park, to the house next door, also a city historical monument. (EGP Photo by Sylvia Sanchez)

Flames quickly spread from one historic house on Avenue 23 in Highland Park, to the house next door, also a city historical monument. (EGP Photo by Sylvia Sanchez)

These old homes can go up quickly, things can get out of hand, he said, explaining the department’s large response.


About a dozen LAFD fire trucks and paramedic vehicles lined a two-block area surrounding the structure fires, closing off Monte Vista and Avenue 53 to commuters and area residents for hours.

A man, who said he lives about a block away, told EGP he heard “an explosion and loud popping sounds, you know like when something catches fire.”

The fire was very intense, Sanders said.

“We have three firefighter injured, probably from heat exhaustion,” he said. “Their injuries are not life-threatening.” Sanders said two of the injured firefighters were being transported to the hospital for treatment, while the third injured firefighter was treated at the scene and released.

Wood siding contributed to the rapid spread of flames, and the roof of one house collapsed, forcing firefighters into a defensive mode, according to the LAFD.

Both residences were more than 100 years old.

The fire began in one house and spread to the other, according to Sanders, who said it was still too soon to know what started the blaze.

“We’re still busy ensuring the fire is completely out,” he said Tuesday, as a firefighter standing on the roof of the adjacent apartment building continued to spray water on smoldering embers, sending plumes of white smoke into the air.

Avenue 53 would remain closed for the rest of the day as firefighters mopped up the scene.

The owner of the more heavily damaged home, Pedro Martinez, said he and his wife were not at home when the fire started. The couple had gone to the store and could see heavy smoke coming from the area where they lived, Martinez told EGP. They rushed back and there were fire trucks everywhere, the elderly man told EGP. Firefighters would not allow them near the house, he said quietly.

“We’re in shock,” said Martinez’ daughter, Patricia Gutierrez. “We don’t know yet what happened, what the cause is,” she said, holding onto her father’s arm in a protective and comforting manner.

“We’re not sure which house caught on fire first,” Gutierrez told EGP.

The Reeve House is a city historical bultural landmark, It was gutted Tuesday by quick moving flames. (EGP photo by Bianca Preciado)

The Reeve House is a city historical bultural landmark, It was gutted Tuesday by quick moving flames. (EGP photo by Bianca Preciado)

Martinez and his family have lived in the house for 27 years. He didn’t notice anything wrong that morning, he said, before leaving to join his wife who had left earlier.

Mark Reyes lives a few blocks away and was among the crowd of onlookers gathered nearby.

He told EGP he is very familiar with the Martinez’ home. “I walk by it nearly every day, there were a lot of cardboard boxes on the front porch,” he said.

“This is a big loss,” Reyes said, pulling out a book to show people gathered on the street corner that the house had historical significance.

The Martinez’ home, built in 1904 is featured in “Images of America – Highland Park,” written by Charles J. Fisher and the Highland Park Heritage Trust.

The caption under the photo reads: “Reeves House Preserved. The 1904 Colonial-style cottage was set to be replaced with a 20-unit box; however, in 1988, the former home of local elementary schoolteacher Susan Reeves was instead saved. The house is now Historic Cultural Monument No. 380. The bungalow court to the left was torn down two years later and replaced by another 20-unit box.”Book Highland Park 9780738555706

Thanks to the quick work of firefighters, the “20-unit box” referred to in the caption did not also go up in flames.

The second house damaged in the fire is known as the Morrell House and also has city historic landmark status. It sits right next door to the Reeves House and according to a post on the Facebook page of the Highland Park Heritage Trust, it too was saved from demolition in 1988.

Rosie Munoz manages the apartment building directly across the street. She was taking a shower and when she got out she saw flames shooting up from the home.

Fire trucks were already there, she said, adding they had responded in a matter of minutes.

“I immediately looked to see if the owners’ car was parked out front, but it wasn’t, she said. “ So I knew they were not home,” she said in relief.

“It was very scary, to see flames that big and so close,” Munoz said. “People started knocking on the door and calling to see what they should do.”

“I went outside and started watering down over here,” Munoz said, pointing at the apartment building and plants in front.

According to Munoz, Martinez was “always working on some project at the house.” “It’s sad,” she said. “Very sad.”

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October 12, 2017  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


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