Without Warning: Fresno complexes make safety changes after ABC30 investigation launched

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- An Action News investigation Monday night revealed a danger lurking in places we're all paying for, but now we're seeing changes at some of those places.

Federal inspectors found 21 Central Valley public housing apartment complexes --receiving some level of subsidization from American taxpayers -- had broken or missing smoke detectors during at least two inspections since 2014.

But since our investigation launched, we found significant updates at a couple of those complexes.

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Apartment complexes often carry the biggest risk for fire spreading fast and causing the most damage and death.

"Typically, areas that share common walls or utility chases or attic spaces -- which can be common, a common attic space - allows a fire that starts in one unit to spread into another unit or to an entire complex," said Fresno Fire Department battalion chief Lawrence French.

Public records requested by Action News show five people have died in fires at Fresno apartments since 2016.

And the damage can climb to $100,000 or higher in a hurry -- as it did at the 2017 fire at the Sunnyside Glen Apartment Complex.

"I run out there with my fire extinguisher right here, and I got the other one over there and tried to turn it off, but it was too much for me," said Sunnyside Glen resident Martin Ulloa.

When Ulloa couldn't stop the flames, firefighters had to rescue three of the disabled and elderly residents living at the taxpayer-subsidized apartment complex.

Federal inspectors cited the complex for smoke detector problems in 2015 and 2016 but didn't come back until 2018 even though our public records request also revealed three fires there in 2017 alone.

Ulloa says new ownership came in after that, and he feels a lot safer now.

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"There's one right there and then we got another one, another one here," he said, pointing to new smoke and carbon monoxide detectors which are in every room now.

Landlords also recently added kitchen fire suppressors.

Two of the most recent fires at this complex started on a stove.

"If grease catches on fire, these things come automatic and turn everything off," he said of the little cans hanging from the hood vent above the kitchen stove.

Federal inspectors got another look at the complex last week.

The results aren't official yet, but people living at Sunnyside Glen say they passed.

Another public housing complex failed its inspection late last year, so they tell us they've instituted monthly smoke detector checkups and immediate replacements when necessary.
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