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Apartment Fire Kills 1, Injures 17

LOS ANGELES -- One person was killed and 17 others suffered minor injuries Saturday afternoon when an apartment fire of unknown origin forced the dramatic evacuation through thick smoke of about 80 disabled and elderly residents from a seven-story, 100-unit complex in Inglewood.

The injured included nine Inglewood police officers who were training at a nearby facility and raced to the scene to help evacuate occupants from the Regency Towers complex on North Locust Street, said Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Darryl Jacobs.

The officers were treated at local hospitals for smoke inhalation. Eight residents were treated for injuries ranging from smoke inhalation to minor cuts and scratches.

Firefighters arrived about 12:20 p.m. and took 17 minutes to extinguish the blaze, which started inside a third-floor apartment and spread to the balcony. After dousing the flames, which remained confined to the one apartment, they discovered the badly burned body of an elderly man next to a wheelchair. His name was not immediately released.

Jacobs said the cause of the fire was under investigation.

About 30 evacuees were taken to the nearby Inglewood Meadows Recreation Center, where Red Cross personnel gave them snacks, helped arrange temporary housing and asked them about needed medications, according to Jerome Thierry of the Red Cross. The rest of the residents had left with family members, he said.

Inglewood police officials told residents that the building would be closed for 24 hours, and that police and a private company would provide security. Fire officials late Saturday afternoon made a final round through the building to find residents' medications.

Melissa Bradley, a neighbor, described a chaotic scene as residents fled the building while firefighters tried to locate stairwells.

"It seemed disorganized," said Bradley, 29. "People did not know what to do."

Bradley said she was standing outside her apartment building across the street saying goodbye to her sister-in-law Wendy Burnett, 30, when they noticed flames coming from the third-floor balcony of the complex, which features a front courtyard and a black iron fence. The two women ran over to help residents leave the building.

Bradley gave her shoes to one occupant who was in a wheelchair and left her apartment wearing socks. Bradley said she also rescued a white cat.

The cat, Munequita, belongs to Hector Beltran, 54, a resident of the complex since 2004 who says he has schizophrenia.

Edna Floyd, 76, was about to test her blood sugar when her smoke alarm sounded. She went into her living room and saw smoke pouring in at the top of the door to her apartment, which was next-door to the burning unit. She went to her balcony and waved her arms to get rescuers' attention.

Wearing white pajamas, a lavender robe and blue slippers, Floyd described her neighbor, the resident who died, as a quiet man. "I feel bad for him," she said.

Lee Harris, 72, a former actor who appeared in the 1970s TV series "The Streets of San Francisco," said he had no idea what was happening when he returned to Regency Towers after visiting his son and saw police and fire vehicles.

Harris said he expected to go back to his son's house for the night. "This makes you appreciate life a lot more," he said.

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