LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A fierce blaze that destroyed a downtown Los Angeles apartment complex under construction next to a fire house and damaged three nearby buildings on Monday is being examined by arson investigators as a “criminal fire,” authorities said.
Commuter traffic into the nation’s second-largest city was snarled through the morning rush as authorities shut down a major nearby freeway because of the blaze, which fire officials said erupted overnight and took three hours to bring under control. No injuries were reported.
About 250 firefighters, roughly a fourth of the city’s on-duty force, battled the blaze at its height, said Katherine Main, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles City Fire Department.
Although the cause was not immediately known, city arson investigators, assisted by agents of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, were “going to treat it as if it’s a criminal fire until proven otherwise,” Fire Captain Jamie Moore told reporters.
He said that the size of the conflagration, as well as the speed and intensity with which it spread, gave investigators cause for concern that it may have been intentionally set.
The site that burned – two stories of poured concrete beneath five floors of wood framing – occupied an entire city block near the junction of two major traffic arteries – the Hollywood Freeway and the Harbor Freeway.
Moments after the first alarm, firefighters whose station is located at the end of the block emerged to see the entire development, measuring 1.3 million square feet (121,000 sq metres), engulfed in flames, Moore said.