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Investigators find fire and safety hazards before Los Angeles arson fire

AP – Investigators in the United States repeatedly identified fire and safety hazards at a leased storage space under an elevated Los Angeles freeway before it burned in an arson fire, documents show.

The November 11 blaze, fed by flammable materials stored under the roadway in violation of the company’s lease, closed a stretch of Interstate 10 near downtown for days, snarling traffic as repair crews work around the clock to fix it. Officials said all lanes are expected to re-open by tomorrow.

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) released the documents on Friday, a day before investigators said they identified a “person of interest” and released two photos in a “crime alert notification” posted to social media. Authorities said they are seeking the public’s help to identify the person.

While investigators have not said how the fire was set, the blaze was fed by pallets, cars, construction materials, hand sanitiser and other items being stored under the freeway under a little-known programme now under scrutiny. Governor Gavin Newsom said the state will reassess the practice of leasing land under roads to bring in money for mass transportation projects.

Construction crews shore up the fire-damaged 10 Freeway in Los Angeles, United States. PHOTO: AP

Apex Development Inc has leased the land under I-10 since 2008. Although one condition of the contract stipulated it not allow flammable or hazardous materials to be stored there, state inspectors have visited the site six times since early 2020 and flagged problematic conditions for years.

“This is a filthy unmaintained lease,” inspector Daryl Myatt wrote in a 2022 report following a surprise inspection that discovered solvents, oils, fuels and other items prohibited by the agreement. “This area has been utilised since the mid-1970s and looks like it.”

Owners of two of the companies that subleased the property said they also had warned of fire danger and other hazards related to homeless people living under the freeway.

Newsom previously said while subleasing can be legal if the company received permission from state and federal regulators, Apex did not.

In September, state officials filed a lawsuit against Apex saying it owes USD78,000 in unpaid rent. A hearing is scheduled for next year.

No injuries were reported in the fire, but at least 16 homeless people living in an encampment there were taken to shelters.

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