A family in Cal Heights is stocking up on heavy duty fire extinguishers after someone set fire to furniture they had set out for large-item pick up the next day, burning down their fence, rabbit coop, bird cages and a car early Thursday morning.
It’s the latest in a string of at least five alley fires in the month of April within five blocks that the Long Beach Fire Department is investigating, spokesman Jake Heflin said.
Thursday’s fire was on the 3800 block of Gaviota Avenue and another was reported at the 3700 block of the same street. Three other trash or fence fires were reported or found by investigators from the 3400 to the 3700 blocks of Gardenia Avenue.
“We’re taking any information from the community,” Heflin said. “The fact that they’re close, the fact that they’re consistent … They all appear to be intentionally set at this time.”
The owner of the home, who asked not to be identified because she is the victim of a crime, said she and her family had just cleaned up their home and backyard and were getting rid of a few mattresses and a sofa. They had scheduled a large-item pick up with the city for Thursday morning and set the items out Wednesday night.
Her 27-year-old son, Christian, was just about to go to bed at 4:30 a.m. after caring for his disabled grandmother overnight when he saw flickering light bouncing off the alley walls from the kitchen window. He ran outside, grabbed the hose and called for help.
“We couldn’t do much with the hose, the water pressure was too low,” Christian said.
With the fire growing and moving to the animal coops, he, his brother, his dad and his dad’s friend tried to hose down the rabbits and the car parked behind the fence to the alley. Even the two 5-pound fire extinguishers the family had didn’t do much to the powerful flames, Christian said.
“We couldn’t get close enough to the fire,” he said. Christian sustained a heat burn on his neck from when he got too close to the flames.
His mom was inside calling 911 and preparing his grandmother for evacuation. A neighbor also jumped in with his own hose and the five adults battled the fire for about 12 minutes until LBFD could get there.
“You can’t afford to just wait,” his mom said as she helped unload two new, larger fire extinguishers from a car. “Praise Jesus Christ, because the garage nearly went up in smoke, it easily could’ve been a block fire.”
The fire also reached a nearby power pole, bringing down a live wire that broke in half before reaching the ground, she said.
In total, the fire claimed the lives of two adult rabbits, five newborn rabbits, three parakeets and four button quails. The three rabbits that survived had to be taken and treated by Long Beach Animal Control because they could no longer eat solid food, Christian said.
“You could hear the animals being burned alive, that was the worst part,” he said.
The rabbits belonged to his 12-year-old brother, who wasn’t home at the time.
“It’s Easter right now, he was so stoked about his babies,” Christian said.
The fire was so large it scorched the wall on the opposite side of the alley. The mattresses were burned down to the wire frames and they’re still scraping the melted patio furniture off their concrete, he said.
Now, neighbors are trying to band together to put a stop to the alley fires. According to Christine Tache, who lives a few houses down from the victims, the neighbors have decided to keep their trash cans inside their backyards rather than in the alley.
Another neighbor has taken it upon himself to patrol the alleys in his car for suspicious people, and some residents in the Cal Heights area are urging each other to install motion-activated alley lights and security cameras in the alleys to deter the suspected arsonist.
Christian and his family immediately installed security cameras in their alley after the fire. And after seeing their two fire extinguishers fail to do much to the fire, they’re buying 20 and 40 pound extinguishers and encouraging their neighbors to do the same. They didn’t know about any of the other alley fires prior to this incident, but now encourage their neighbors to set out any large items that are being picked up the morning of rather than the night before.