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Downtown LA fire update: ATF response team to work with arson unit; damaged city building could be closed for months (updated)

An arson team investigates the scene after an early-morning fire consumed a seven-story apartment complex that was still under construction in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, Dec. 8, 2014.
An arson team investigates the scene after an early-morning fire consumed a seven-story apartment complex that was still under construction in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, Dec. 8, 2014.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
An arson team investigates the scene after an early-morning fire consumed a seven-story apartment complex that was still under construction in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, Dec. 8, 2014.
The 110 was briefly closed after an early-morning fire consumed a seven-story apartment complex that was still under construction in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, Dec. 8, 2014. Three lanes that remained closed were reopened early Tuesday.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC


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Update 4:10 p.m.: ATF response team to work with arson unit; damaged city building could be closed for months

One of two city buildings that were damaged by an early morning fire in downtown Los Angeles Monday could be closed for months, fire officials said Tuesday. The building at 221 Figueroa St. housed several city departments including offices for Building and Safety and Parks and Recreation, as well as some L.A. police and fire personnel. 

At a meeting Tuesday, officials said more than 300 windows were blown out at 221 Figueroa St.  due to the heat from the fire next door, which melted computer equipment and sparked widespread water damage.

Another building, located at 201 Figueroa St., which also contained city services, was also damaged, but should be open again by Thursday, fire officials said. 

Earlier today, the city announced that an ATF 'National Response Team' would assist in the investigation alongside city arson units.

The ATF team will provide highly specialized investigators, including explosives specialists, fire investigators, forensic mapping specialists, explosive and accelerant detection canine teams, explosive enforcement officers, fire protection engineers, electrical engineers, and forensic chemists.

"We bring a whole host of expertise and experts in all the disciplines that it takes to figure out what happened on these scenes," Special Agent Carlos Canino, who oversees the division, told KPCC.

Canino said he visited the site yesterday. "I saw a city block burnt to the ground," he said.  

Tomorrow morning, he said investigators will divide into two divisions: one focused on uncovering evidence with ATF and city fire "personnel in that debris pile, trying to get all the way down to the slab" of the structure. Another team will begin canvassing and interviewing first responders and neighbors. 

"At the end of the end of the day, we all come together and we all share notes and we decide what's the best course of action for the next day." Canino said. 

It's not yet clear whether the fire was the result of an arson, Canino said adding that "arsons are one of the hardest things to prove, because frankly a lot of the evidence gets burned at the scene."

The NRT team in the past has investigated crimes scenes at the Oklahoma City bombing and Atlanta Olympic Park bombing, among others. The team was in L.A. not long ago to look into a massive storage facility fire in Venice. 

Update 7:58 a.m.: Downtown LA fire: All lanes of 110 Freeway reopened

All lanes of the 110 Freeway have reopened following a massive fire that ripped through a construction site and spanned more than a city block in downtown Los Angeles Monday.

The California Highway Patrol announced the remaining three northbound lanes opened shortly after 5 a.m. Tuesday.

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The fire destroyed one building of the Da Vinci apartment complex, which was still under construction, and damaged some nearby buildings.

An investigation into the fire was scheduled to begin Wednesday morning with help from federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"The ATF response team will be sending 20 members. Some have specialties in explosive detection. Some have specialties in chemical detection," said Katherine Main of L.A. City Fire.

Investigators plan to look at surveillance recordings from nearby buildings and will use dogs that can recognize fire accelerants to learn whether it was caused by arson.

Damages are expected to be in the tens of millions of dollars. Nobody was injured.

This post has been updated.