Fire Victim's Body Found in Converted Garage Amid "Pack-Rat Conditions"

The 61-year-old victim was living in a garage converted into a living area in Winnetka

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    Firefighters needed less than 20 minutes to put out a blaze in Winnetka Monday morning, but as they did, they found the body of a man inside the detached garage. John Cádiz Klemack reports from Winnetka for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014.

    Firefighters discovered a body inside a west-central San Fernando Valley garage after knocking down an early morning fire -- the latest in a series of fatal fires involving structures converted into living areas.

    The fire was reported at about 4 a.m. in the 7000 block of Sunnybrae Avenue in Winnetka (map) and knocked down in about 17 minutes. Firefighters discovered the body of a 61-year-old man in the detached garage.

    Details regarding the victim and a cause of the fire were not immediately available, but fire officials said the man was living in "pack-rat conditions." He was described as a long-time friend of the homeowners who was allowed to live in the packed garage.

    "There was only one way out, and that was through the big garage doors," said Los Angeles Fire Department Battalion Chief Steve Ruda.

    Garage Packed "Floor to Ceiling"

    [LA] Garage in Fatal Fire Packed Floor to Ceiling
    Neighbors and fire officials describe the cramped conditions inside a garage that was being used as a living area. Toni Guinyard reports for the NBC4 News at Noon on Monday Jan. 20, 2014.

    Read: Lighter Mishap Led to Buena Park Fire

    Neighbors told NBC4 the man lived in the garage -- packed floor to ceiling with belongings -- for several years. The victim was found next to the garage's roll-up door.

    "It's really sad," said neighbor David Dorfman. "I was always worried when I'd go by there. There was no room for anything in there."

    The death is the latest in a series of fatal fires in buildings that had been converted into living areas. A family, including a mother, father and two children, were killed Jan. 13 in Sylmar after a fire in a metal storage building that had been converted into a residence.

    The death marks the sixth residential fire fatality of the year, according to the LAFD.

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