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A closer look -- Residents suddenly on the firing line

March 11, 2002

Residential fires may well be prevented by storing one's possessions

in a neat and orderly manner, said the Costa Mesa Fire Marshall Tom

Macduff.

"The major issue, especially in the first fire, is what you should or

shouldn't store in your condo," he said.

The vapor explosion could have been caused by any number of sources

from tapping a switch to someone lighting a cigarette.

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"Gasoline has the explosive power of dynamite," he said.

Macduff said he will meet with the Monticello Homeowners Assn. members

soon to discuss some of the issues that can be controlled in such a

setting. Such a meeting between city officials and Monticello homeowners

is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

With residences, nobody has the authority to regulate the way people

store their belongings. But condominium associations may be able to

enforce strict regulations, Macduff said.

He said fires in the city's businesses have gone down drastically

since the Fire Department started inspecting them for hazards every year.

"With residences the only solution would be more educational programs

and voluntary compliance," Macduff said. "We put out information all the

time, but nobody really listens until something major happens."

Monticello resident Bob Michna agreed and said residents and the

homeowners association must work together to "make ourselves safer."

"I don't think we should be afraid to approach a neighbor and request

them to keep their garages in a more orderly fashion," he said.

But others said they believe the fires were purely coincidental.

Robert Myers, a long-time resident, said he remembers a fire that

burned down a townhouse more than 20 years ago.

"It was a spark from starting a motorcycle that ignited something and

the whole unit went down," he said. "I guess this is just something that

happens from time to time. It was just a freak incident that there were

two fires in three days."

Myers said he feels the complex has imposed enough rules and

regulations on its residents "to last a lifetime."

"You can't tell a person to clean up their garage just as you can't

walk into somebody's house and ask them to do the dirty dishes or vacuum

their carpet," he said.

People will continue to use their garage for storing their belongings,

Myers said.

Professional Community Management, the company that manages the

property, is focusing on working with insurance companies to repair the

damaged homes, said spokeswoman Debbie Evans.

She said the company was not planning on rewiring the circuits. The

homes were built around 1964.

"We haven't heard from the investigators about anything being wrong

with the wiring," Evans said.

She said the consecutive fires were unexpected.

"It was a total shock," Evans said. "It's very unfortunate for that

community."

* Deepa Bharath covers public safety and courts. She may be reached at

(949) 574-4226 or by e-mail at o7 deepa.bharath@latimes.comf7 .

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