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Deadly San Jose Fire Ignites Debate On Rent Reform, Building Safety, Immigration

SAN JOSE (KPIX) -- A deadly apartment fire in San Jose is getting political. A city councilman is calling for urgent rent reform because many old buildings are unsafe.

For the Le family, it has been two and half days of tears and prayers. My Linh Thi Nguyen, her 21-year-old son, Thuong Le, and her 14-year-old daughter Yvonne, all died after being trapped inside an upstairs apartment unit early Saturday morning.

Neighbors could hear them screaming for help, but by the time firefighters arrived, the building on South Ninth Street was fully engulfed.

A memorial in the tightknit neighborhood grows by the hour as the father, Khoa Le is in critical condition, with burns to 70 percent of his body. He does not yet know that his family is dead. What's more, his mother has not been allowed to see him.

"We want to hide everything from her," said Phuong Ta, his cousin. "She really wants to see him. But we just keep hiding it, because she has a lot of pain -- it's too much for her to see him right now."

This weekend's fatal fire is the latest high profile tragedy to hit San Jose's Vietnamese community.

Last August, two children and a grandfather were killed in a fire at the Golden Wheel Mobile Home Park. In March, many Vietnamese families were flooded out of their homes in the Rock Springs area of the city.

"I want to force dialogue. I want people to take action and not just talk," he said.

Nguyen is urging his colleagues and other elected officials to keep immigrant families who are struggling in mind when shaping policies like affordable housing and rent control.

"This is a cry out for more attention, to take a look at and helping the poor and working families. and take action right away on the lack of affordable housing," he said.

Khoa worked as a server at a local noodle restaurant. My Linh worked seven days a week, as an assembler Monday to Friday, and then at a pizza parlor on the weekend.

It's unclear how the family will pay for three funerals, and the mountain of medical bills that will follow.

"We don't know how can he survive," said Ta.

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