Photos by Brian Addison.
Two vacant homes on the border between Long Beach and Signal Hill, which have caused a dispute between the city and the homes’ owner for a decade, caught fire last night, city officials said.
Long Beach Fire Department (LBFD) personnel were dispatched to the scene west of the intersection of Temple Avenue and Hill Street at about 8:05PM, said LBFD spokesman Jake Heflin.
The 3,000-square-foot houses were never permitted, and, because of that, they do not have physical street addresses, Heflin said. They have also remained vacant since they were built 10 years ago.
The first arriving unit, which was a Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) officer, found heavy fire coming out of the front windows of the the building slightly up the hill to the west, Heflin said. There was fire damage to the first floor, kitchen and upstairs bathroom and closet, as well as smoke damage throughout.
“There was fire coming out on both the front of the house and the side of the house between both homes,” Heflin said.
LBFD personnel arrived shorly thereafter to the home located more to the east to find smoke coming out of the vents, and smoke damage throughout the lower floor, the kitchen, and upstairs bath and closet.
Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD) personnel also responded to the scene due to the confusion as to which jurisdiction the houses were in, since they are situated on the Long Beach and Signal Hill border.
LBFD and LACoFD were able to knock down both fires by 8:35PM, and the last unit left at about 11:06PM.
Because of the fires, the LBPD assisted with a street closure of northbound Temple Avenue between Willow Street and Spring Street.
The cause of the fires is undetermined and under investigation, Heflin said. Damage estimates from the fires were also unavailable.
This was the second fire at the home to the west in the last two years, according to Long Beach city officials. The home previously caught fire in 2011.
The homes were originally built about 10 years ago by Wayne Ballinger and were never successfully permitted, said Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais.
“Ballinger pulled building permits from the City of Long Beach to construct the houses, but they’re uniquely situated within the City of Long Beach that when you walk out the front door, you’re in Signal Hill,” Mais said.
Because of this, Ballinger had to obtain utility permits from the City of Signal Hill, which refused the permit due to the locations of the would-be driveways on a hill.
Ballinger, however, told the City of Long Beach that he had the necessary utility permits and continued with construction.
“He represented to Long Beach that Signal Hill gave him permission to do curb cuts and driveways on Hill Street so he could access the site,” Mais said. “That was a lie. The City of Signal Hill said Hill Street was too dangerous for a driveway, and he had no physical access to the front of the houses.”
The City of Long Beach issued a stop work order, but by that time, the houses were framed and stuccoed on the outside. Ballinger also continued working on the interior of the house without a permit, Mais said.
Ballinger eventually foreclosed the property, which has had four other owners since.
When the most recent owner, Brian Angel of Tarzana-based Six Angels, Inc., purchased the homes in 2006, the city attempted to work with him, but he could never prove that he had gotten the permits for utilities, Mais said.
The home to the west caught fire in 2011, Mais said, and the LBFD has yet to determine the cause.
“Eventually, in 2011, we came to the realization that we believed they were never going to complete the homes, even if that fire never happened,” he said. “We asked them to demolish the homes, and they refused.”
The City of Long Beach filed a lawsuit in 2011 alleging the properties were substandard and a public nuisance.
Angel and the City eventually reached a stipulated settlement earlier this year that they could “bring the houses up to snuff,” Mais said.
“The homes were supposed to be completed by January 2015, but as of now we believe they would not have been able to perform, and they also did not prove they had necessary utilities,” Mais said.
Anyone with information about Wednesday night’s fires is urged to call Long Beach Fire Investigators at 562-570-2537.
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