At least 20 men, many of them elderly, were renting small rooms partitioned inside the two-story home at 1385 El Sereno Ave., just above Washington Boulevard. In addition to the two men killed, the flames that engulfed the front of the house after reports of an explosion at 2:15 a.m. sent one resident to the hospital. Sixteen others were evacuated from the building.
Garth Allen Robbins, a tenant whose whereabouts were unknown immediately after the blaze, was arrested in a Pasadena restaurant just before 6 a.m. Friday and is being held without bail at Pasadena City Jail on suspicion of arson and murder, according to police.
Police and fire investigators found evidence of a fire intentionally set in Robbins' room, said Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman Lisa Derderian.
Several tenants who had evacuated to the Jackie Robinson Center said Thursday afternoon that Robbins had left the house shortly before the fire broke out and had not returned.
Officials have identified one of the men who died as Cliff Juan Clark, 56. The name of the second victim, a white man in his 70s, has not been released pending identification of relatives, said Los Angeles County Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter.
The surviving burn victim, Perry Simons, remained in “serious but stable” condition at Grossman Burn Center in West Hills on Friday, said Grossman spokeswoman Cathy Butter.
Beck said city officials are still gathering records about the home but confirmed that prior zoning code investigations had taken place there.
“The use [of the property] is in violation of the zoning code. There have been code issues at the property previously,” Beck said. “The city is investigating previous code actions at the property and their relevance to the incident.”
Residents of the home who gathered at the Jackie Robinson Center after the fire said they paid between $425 and $550 per month for their apartments inside the structure.
Residents lived in the basement as well as on the ground and upper floors, and two residents said the men who died were upstairs tenants.
In the aftermath of the fire, other upstairs residents reported they escaped the heavy smoke by traversing the roof after climbing through a window or by sliding down a set of back stairs.
City spokesman William Boyer said Friday that all the remaining tenants of the home have been placed in temporary housing.
Records list the property's owner as Jeanette Broussard, who declined to comment when contacted at her Altadena home.
Broussard also owns several properties in Los Angeles and a pair of Pasadena homes in the 600 block of Del Monte Street.
One of the Del Monte homes was the subject of tragedy and alleged code violations in 2009.
City officials filed six misdemeanor charges against Broussard, including housing code violations and creation of a public nuisance, after a May 2009 fire killed tenant Azariah Stoney, according to court records.
Those charges were dropped after Broussard agreed to comply with city regulations, said city spokesman William Boyer.
Broussard also later dropped a lawsuit that alleged city officials had illegally prevented her from operating “a group home for the disabled.”
The home on El Sereno was zoned for single-family use and did not have a state license, Derderian said.
Follow Joe on Twitter @JoePiasecki.