Los Angeles, CA Hotel Fire Claims Many Lives, Sep 1970

Ponet Square Hotel Fire



At least 11 persons died Sunday in the worst hotel fire in Los Angeles history and firemen feared the hotel's almost impenetrable debris would yield many more bodies.
By nightfall only 68 of the 80 to 120 occupants of the downtown Ponet Square Hotel had been accounted for. Twenty-five were hospitalized, some for smoke inhalation or burns and others for broken limbs suffered when they leaped from windows or fell from ropes made of sheets and blankets.
Two persons were listed as critically injured.
The search for bodies was halted late Sunday because of the building's "unstable condition." Fire officials said the search would resume at daybreak, adding "we feel that there may be many more in there."
A teen-age girl was killed jumping from a third-story window. The bodies of the other victims were found inside the old structure, which burned for hours.
Burning cinders flew over several blocks and thick, black smoke, rising hundreds of feet into the dull overcast, could be seen 10 miles away.
A survivor, DIANE PARKER, 52, said she was awakened by a neighbor in her fourth-floor room at the hotel, the permanent residence of a number of elderly persons and others.
MRS. PARKER, crippled and wheelchair-bound, was unable to reach the smoke-filled hallway, so she hauled herself onto a window ledge and cried for help. Two other women on the floor below were screaming also and she told a fireman on a ladder to save them first.
"There was fire and smoke all around," she said. "The firemen took me down on a ladder."
Eleven engines and eight trucks with 110 men fought the blaze only two blocks from a fire station.
Deputy Fire Chief KENNETH LONG said the first crew rescued "at least 25 persons."
Hotel manager BOB FUJIMOTO said "a little more than 80 people" were in the building when the fire broke out. Firemen were unable to find the guest register. Many of the guests were transient.
FUJIMOTO said he was awakened by a tenant pounding on his door at 5:30 a.m. He said he ran down the hallway, shouting and pounding doors rousing some of the residents.
A fire official said the cause of the blaze had not been determined. He said the fire broke out in the basement or a first floor laundry room, and shot up a horseshoe-shaped stairwell in the center of the 60-year-old structure.
When firefighters arrived flames were shooting out of the upper windows.
Five hook and ladder trucks arrived to rescue persons in the upper floors, some of whom were sitting on their window ledges.
Many could not -- or would not -- wait for the ladders. They either took their chances jumping from windows or sliding down ropes or bedsheets and blankets knotted together.
MRS. MARTHA ROBLES, 38, said she and her husband flung themselves out of their third story apartment. She sustained multiple pelvic fractures and lost track of her husband in the confusion.
Ambulances raced in and out of the fire scene for more than an hour, taking loads of the injured to nearby hospitals.
"We piled them into the ambulances like cordwood and took them away," said Battalion Chief RICHARD CARRIGER.
Survivors huddled in nightclothes and blankets as they watched the flames. One woman who waved a few possessions sat on a curb and sobbed uncontrollably.

Independent Long Beach California 1970-09-14

Transcriber's Note: This fire was proven to have been a case of arson. The final fatality toll was 19.