State Fire Marshal: Los Angeles Freeway Fire Set Intentionally

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State Fire Marshal: Los Angeles Freeway Fire Set Intentionally

Damage caused by a fire created a temporary closure of Interstate 10 in Los Angeles on Nov. 13, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

11/13/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

A massive fire that engulfed a portion of Interstate 10 in downtown Los Angeles after midnight on Nov. 11 and has now closed a portion of the freeway indefinitely was set intentionally inside a gate containing wooden pallets and stored cars, the California state fire marshal has determined.
“Our investigators ... have been able to confidently determine that the fire was caused by arson,” State Fire Marshal Chief Daniel Berlant told reporters on Nov. 13 at a news conference.
Fire investigators combed the area on Nov. 13, interviewing homeless people and business owners to uncover who started the blaze and whether it was one person or multiple suspects, Chief Berlant said.
They also searched for video footage recorded by private businesses or people in the area. Officials also encouraged the public to report any information to help the ongoing criminal investigation.
In a city of nearly 4 million residents, and many more who commute in each day from other counties for work, the freeway closure has prompted an emergency response more reminiscent of those seen after earthquakes and other natural disasters.
“We’re working our tails off to get this reopened,” Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters at the news conference, held in front of the burned-out freeway underpass.
About 300,000 vehicles use the highway—also known as the Santa Monica Freeway—each day, mainly to commute to and from work in Los Angeles.
State and city transportation workers will work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to clear debris and get the road back open, according to the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans).
Firefighters look at damage caused by a powerful fire that resulted in a temporary closure of the 10 freeway in Los Angeles on Nov. 13, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Firefighters look at damage caused by a powerful fire that resulted in a temporary closure of the 10 freeway in Los Angeles on Nov. 13, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

State and local engineers were continuing to test columns and the roadway to determine whether the stretch of the vital artery between Alameda Street and the East LA Interstate-110 interchange needs to be demolished and rebuilt, according to Mr. Newsom.
More than 100 columns were involved in the fire and about 10 were damaged severely, but initial results are more positive than anticipated, the governor said.
“Core samples have determined that the structural integrity of the deck appears to be much stronger than originally assessed,” Mr. Newsom said. “That does not mean we are moving forward without the consideration of a demo.”
The area involved in the fire is leased by Apex Development, Inc., a Calabasas-based paving company, which leases five locations in the city, according to the governor.
The state recently served the company with an eviction notice and is expecting to meet with them in court in January or early February. It appears that the company was illegally leasing some of its space under the freeway, he said.
“They’ve been out of compliance for some time,” Mr. Newsom said.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass encouraged residents to stay “united.”
“Losing this stretch of the 10 freeway will take time and money from people’s lives and businesses,” she said at the news conference.
Commuters were asked to use alternate freeways rather than take surface streets, if possible, and to use public transportation. The city planned to continue posting public updates on the Nextdoor social media app and on a new website created for the crisis at fixthe10.ca.gov.
Traffic officers help to divert traffic after a temporary closure of the 10 freeway in Los Angeles on Nov. 13, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Traffic officers help to divert traffic after a temporary closure of the 10 freeway in Los Angeles on Nov. 13, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A homeless encampment sits off the closed 10 freeway in Los Angeles on Nov. 13, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A homeless encampment sits off the closed 10 freeway in Los Angeles on Nov. 13, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Ms. Bass, who also updated the public on Monday morning, said the city has notified thousands of people about the situation through mobile alerts, the Nextdoor app, and Instagram Live.
“This is not going to be resolved in one or two days,” she said during a news conference on Nov. 12. “As we are learning the extent of the damage, we will keep you informed, but we need to stay together. As you are informed, please cooperate with the instructions you are given.”
The city additionally directed the public to its own emergency management webpage for up-to-date information.
The section of the freeway damaged by the fire remains closed in both directions after the fire broke out underneath an overpass in a pallet yard in the 1700 block of East 14th Street. It consumed cars, wooden pallets, fruits and vegetables, and hazardous materials, Mr. Newsom said.
The fire quickly consumed the pallet yard and a second one also under the freeway.
Several columns were eroded, with concrete chipping away, and piles of burned and twisted metal and debris were strewn around the area. The fire also left twisted guardrails along the freeway, burned by the columns of fire that started at about 12:30 a.m. on Nov. 11 in the industrial area and raged for about three hours.
Some speculate that the blaze could have been sparked by homeless people camping nearby, which is a frequent cause of fires in the city, but Ms. Bass discouraged the public from blaming them.
“There is no reason to assume that the origin of this fire or the reason this fire happened was because there were unhoused individuals nearby,” she said on Nov. 13.
The city has found housing for 16 homeless people who lived near the fire, including one woman who’s expecting a child in a few weeks, she said.
About 8 acres around the area were damaged. The fire burned parked cars and wooden pallets, as well as support poles for high-tension power lines, city Fire Chief Kristin Crowley told The Associated Press. No injuries were reported.
Mr. Newsom declared a state of emergency on Nov. 11 to support the state’s response to the fire.
A freeway onramp is closed off after a temporary closure of the 10 freeway in Los Angeles on Nov. 13, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A freeway onramp is closed off after a temporary closure of the 10 freeway in Los Angeles on Nov. 13, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The proclamation helps with the cleanup and repair work and directs CalTrans to request assistance through the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Program.
The governor joined several local officials and emergency personnel on Nov. 12 to survey the damage.
Ms. Bass said she was in touch with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to ensure that no barriers would get in the way of getting the freeway back up and running.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who represents the area affected, said the scene was alarming.
“Earlier today, I also had a tour of this predicament and found it was very disturbing to see the magnitude and the destruction that is now facing the residents of L.A. County,” she said on Nov. 13. “In totality, we’re talking about a major artery that you have different freeways conversing here. You have people traveling as far as other counties. Many were not aware of what was taking place over the weekend.”
Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

Author

Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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