LA County warehouse fire evacuations to continue through the night

Aerial footage from KPCC's media partner NBC4 showed fire and smoke rising from what fire officials said was a recycling plant fire early Tuesday, June 14, 2016.
Aerial footage from KPCC's media partner NBC4 showed fire and smoke rising from what fire officials said was a recycling plant fire early Tuesday, June 14, 2016.

An explosive fire at a warehouse prompted the evacuation of about 200 residents, and at one point knocked out power for thousands of customers in southeast Los Angeles County.

Check back for updates.


Update 6:00 p.m.: Evacuations will continue overnight; Air quality impacted

At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Los Angeles County Deputy Fire Chief John Tripp said evacuations would continue overnight for homes in the immediate vicinity of the fire as crews continue efforts to get a handle on the blaze, which erupted at a metal recycling center in Maywood.

The concern stems from what a potential shift in winds could mean for homes close to the fire, Tripp said, not from concern over toxic fumes from the metals. 

He added that firefighters had established an "exclusion zone" in the immediate area of the fire — about 300 feet around the facility — where firefighters are required to wear protective gear, but that onsite representatives from the South Coast Air Quality Management District had determined there is no increased hazard to the public from the burning materials outside of that immediate area. 

"A lot of the smoke — it's very typical of what you see from a smoldering building fire," he said. "So it's not any other types of really harmful gases, and we've been monitoring that all day" with public health officials and the air quality district.

Tripp advised those whose vehicles or houses were covered with residue from the explosion to wash them off with soap and water. 

"We've evaluated that — whether there's any hazardous residue — and right now all our hazardous material specialists and our chemists on scene say there's nothing more, there's no hazard," he said.

Air quality officials have asked residents to avoid vigorous exercise, to close windows, and to run their air conditioners if they have them, and to avoid using a swamp cooler or whole-house fan to keep smoke from getting inside. Older adults, children and anyone with respiratory or heart disease in these areas have been advised to stay indoors.

Two individuals — a firefighter and a Maywood city employee — were hospitalized for minor injuries related to smoke inhalation, Tripp said.

The number of customers without power was down to 49 as of 6 p.m., said Susan Cox, a spokeswoman for Southern California Edison.

A massive explosion, then caution

Chemicals burning at the facility have made it extremely dangerous for firefighters to handle, Tripp said.

Crews at the scene early Tuesday had to change course when the fire encountered a cache of exotic metals. 

"While we were applying water in fighting that fire, the fire came in contact with a large amount of magnesium," Tripp said. "That created a very violent reaction, an explosion that I'm sure a lot of you saw on the news this morning." 

Firefighters then turned their hoses off and began using them to surround the fire in order to contain it. 

"We've been all day today evaluating exactly what the hazard is of that material," he added.

A fire at a recycling facility on Slauson Avenue in Los Angeles last year created similar problems for the department, Tripp said — a situation they did not want to replicate.

"We had a very similar type of explosion and reaction when magnesium hits water. That created a tremendous explosion," he said.

Tripp called Tuesday's incident a very close call.

"It was extremely hazardous and we are very very fortunate that we didn't suffer any injuries last night," he said. 

Fire crews will begin to move materials in the facility and make sure they have most of the smoldering fire out, then they'll slowly and cautiously work with Hazmat teams to ensure there are no more dangers to the public.

The evacuations and power outage in the area will continue through tomorrow morning "at the earliest," Tripp said. 

Update 7:34 a.m.: LA County warehouse fire forces evacuations, knocks out power to thousands

The fire started at about 2:30 a.m. and involved a truck repair shop and sheet metal company, according to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

About 200 residents were evacuated near the 3500 block of Fruitland Avenue in Maywood, the sheriff’s department said in a statement Tuesday morning. Most of those residents were under mandatory evacuation orders, though some residents voluntarily left the area for safety.

Residents were asked to seek shelter at the Maywood YMCA at 4801 58th Street, where Red Cross staff were on hand to assist, according to the sheriff’s department.

At a news conference earlier in the morning, L.A. County Fire Chief Daryl Osby told reporters that businesses surrounding the fire were also under voluntary evacuation.

The Associated Press reported that explosions could be heard at the scene and that a huge plume of thick, black smoke was visible for miles.

Robert Diaz of L.A. County Fire said 100 firefighters responded to the scene, according to AP.

Two structures were destroyed, but firefighters managed to protect surrounding residential buildings, Osby said. After an initial attempt to douse the fire and preserve surrounding structures, authorities on scene determined the building could not be saved and were letting the fire burn itself out.

Osby told reporters that a number of different materials were inside the facilities, potentially including chemicals, acids, propane and metals.

Osby said there were concerns about smoke inhalation for those near the fire. Experts from the South Coast Air Quality Management District have been called in to evaluate the chemical content of the smoke.

Residents as far away as the San Fernando Valley have reported smelling the smoke, according to AQMD.

The air quality will likely reach unhealthy levels in impacted areas, particularly in central, south and southeast Los Angeles County, AQMD officials said in a statement.

For now, AQMD has advised residents in those areas to avoid any vigorous exercise, to close windows and run the air conditioner if you have one, and to avoid using a swamp cooler or whole-house fan to keep smoke from getting inside. Older adults, children and anyone with respiratory or heart disease in these areas have been advised to stay indoors.

Meanwhile, burned power lines have led to power outages along several blocks in the surrounding residential neighborhood.

A spokesperson for Southern California Edison said that about 3,000 customers were without power shortly after the fire broke out.

By 3:58 a.m., the company was able to isolate and reduce the footprint of the outage to just 153 customers, Edison’s David Song told KPCC.

“Unfortunately, those customers are still out as our crews continue to work and to do construction to restore the power structures that were affected by the fire,” Song said.

The company hoped to get power restored for the remaining customers by 8 p.m.

Authorities are still investigating the cause of the fire.

The sheriff’s department has warned of road closures and fire hazards and advised the public to avoid the following areas:

This story has been updated.