June 16, 2024 The Best Source of News, Culture, Lifestyle for Culver City, Mar Vista, Del Rey, Palms and West Los Angeles

Arson probed in Downtown monster blaze

Local and federal investigators were under orders today to determine the cause of Monday’s spectacular inferno at a large apartment building under construction in downtown L.A., but fire officials are already pointing to the possibility that the blaze was set deliberately.

The fire that destroyed the seven-story building also damaged three high-rise buildings and prompted hours-long freeway closures that affected thousands of commuters. The fire was so hot that it melted freeway signs, and at least 160 plate glass windows were destroyed in a nearby city-owned building.

Damages are expected to be in the tens of millions of dollars. But no one was injured in the blaze, which was reported at 1:20 a.m. Monday at the Da Vinci apartment complex at 906 N. Fremont Ave. The flames could be seen for miles as they consumed an entire city block and sent blazing scaffolding onto the Harbor (110) Freeway.

The fire department asked the California Highway Patrol to issue a SigAlert shutting down the northbound 110 Freeway transition to the northbound Hollywood (101) Freeway and the southbound 101 at Alvarado Street and Union Avenue. Then, both directions of the 110 Freeway were closed about 3 a.m. Monday as the fire raged.

Traffic was a mess most of the day, with the CHP reopening the transition road from the northbound 110 to southbound 101 about 5 p.m. Monday, though some northbound freeway lanes remained closed, as did some onramps and the collector road that runs alongside between Third and Sixth streets.

Shortly after 5 a.m. today, all remaining freeway lanes and transition roadways were reopened, the CHP reported.

Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said more than 250 firefighters were deployed to fight the fire and keep it from spreading beyond the 1.3 million-square-foot structure, which was in the framing stage.

The cause of the blaze is being probed by a task force that includes local investigators and personnel from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Authorities have announced a hotline number — (213) 893-9850 — and urged tipsters to call in with any information relevant to the investigation.

“When we see a fire this well developed … (we think) perhaps it was set,” LAFD Deputy Chief Joseph Castro told reporters. He noted that flammable liquids are used on construction sites for equipment.

Added LAFD Captain Jaime Moore in comments reported by the Los Angeles Times: “It’s very rare for the entire building to be engulfed at once. … There may have been some foul play.”

On Monday afternoon, ATF investigators climbed on a fire crane to look down on the building’s ruins from a position of relative safety. With several floors collapsed on top of one another, investigators will have to pick through layers of debris to determine what caused the fire, Carlos Canino, the top ATF agent in Los Angeles, told The Times.

“You’ve literally got to get down to the ground level, to the cement,” he said.

Accelerant-sniffing dogs will be deployed as part of the investigation.

Arson investigators said they also plan to look at surveillance video from surrounding buildings.

As the wooden framing at the Da Vinci building was collapsing, flames spread to a 16-story city-owned building at 221 N. Figueroa St., where three floors sustained fire damage and 14 floors had water damage, said LAFD spokesman David Ortiz. That building was closed Monday, and people were instructed to contact their supervisors for further instructions on reporting to work.

Three stories of the 15-story Los Angeles County Health Department building at 313 N. Figueroa St. sustained radiant heat damage, including melted blinds and broken glass, the LAFD reported. The radiant-heat damage provided a measure of how much heat the inferno at the construction site generated.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power headquarters at 111 N. Hope St. also sustained building damage due to the fire. At least 160 windows, mostly on the west side of the John Ferraro Building, were cracked as a result of the heat, according to the DWP. The window panels are each about 10 feet high by four feet wide.

On the third floor of the building on Figueroa Street, where the city’s Department of Aging rents space, there were approximately 2,000 Christmas gift bags being stored prior to distribution to low-income senior citizens, some without families nearby. They were destroyed by water.

“It’s enough to break your heart,” department general manager Laura Trejo told The Times shortly after she returned from a visit to the site Monday evening. Department staff members had planned to begin passing out the presents this week, she said.

The gifts were part of a Secret Santa-type program called  Project CARE, which matches city and Los Angeles Police Department employees with senior citizens in need, The Times reported. Presents include sweaters, socks, DVDs, lamps and food.

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