Los Angeles County is moving people displaced by the Maywood industrial fire from a Red Cross shelter into motels, and is offering them additional financial aid until they get the all clear to go home, officials said Monday.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says preliminary results of its indoor air tests indicate that it will need to remove toxic metals from some homes.
Nearly 200 people are receiving benefits, said Jeff Reeb, a director with the County Office of Emergency Management. The county is covering the cost of the motels, and is providing debit cards worth $25 per day per person, he said.
Almost all of those getting help live on the north side of 52nd Street between Maywood and Everett Aves., which was closest to the explosive industrial fire that erupted on June 14 and burned for nearly 30 hours. There are 43 homes and apartments that remain evacuated, according to Michelle Rogow, on-scene coordinator for the EPA.
Three families from the south side of the street are taking advantage of the assistance because of health problems, said Reeb. Pets are being housed for free at the Downey animal shelter.
"We want to be sure the home is safe to reoccupy and that takes time to do the testing, the cleaning, the post-cleaning testing and then with confidence we can say your home is safe to reoccupy," he said.
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved $125,000 to cover the cost of the housing and other financial aid, said Supervisor Hilda Solis.
"There should be no difference between what happens in Aliso Canyon and what happens right here in Maywood," she said.
The blaze started in an industrial park in the 3700 block of Fruitland Avenue, home to Gemini Film & Bag, which makes custom plastic films and bags, and Panda International Trading Co., a metal recycler. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to fire officials.
The fire was especially destructive because water sprayed by firefighters caused magnesium stored at Panda International to explode.
The EPA tested indoor air samples from 43 homes and apartments nearest the fire, said Rogow. The federal agency also collected ash samples the day after the fire.
Preliminary test results indicated the presence of chromium, zinc, copper and magnesium, with some metals turning up at high levels, she said.
As a result, "We’re hoping actually to start cleanup operations indoors tomorrow or the following day," she said Monday.
Once the cleanup is complete the agency will do another air and possibly a dust sampling to ensure everything is safe, Rogow said.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District collected outdoor air samples near the fire zone. It said it found metals at levels below the threshold for adverse health effects.
This is the same area where many residents have already had their yards tested and cleaned up for lead contamination left by the former Exide battery recycling plant, just blocks away in nearby Vernon.
Yesenia Jaramillo and her family were made homeless by the fire. They live on the north side of 52nd Street, separated from Panda International by a cinder block wall. The wall bordering her yard is in pieces.
All of the windows are blown out, the curtains have ember holes in them and glass litters the floor and furniture in every room. An extra refrigerator outside the house is ruined.
Jaramillo says the fire realized her worst fears about living so close to an industrial site.
"I always tell my husband we have to move, we have to move, someday something is going to happen,” she says. "It was always so loud, the pounding from the factory shakes the house and the smell has always been terrible, like chemicals and oil."
They didn’t move, she says, because they could not afford to. And now she says she doesn't know what they will do.
At Monday's news conference, officials unveiled a pop-up community information center. A crowd of neighbors from the south side of the street gathered and shouted questions at officials. They complained about a lack of information and questioned why their homes are not being tested.
"It’s logical that if it’s contaminated on that side why wouldn’t it be on our side too," said Margarita Gaspar, who lives in an apartment on the south side of the street with her husband and their three children.
"We have our windows open," she said. "We are breathing the same air."
County officials said that if their testing shows that contamination has gone beyond the north side of the street, they will test further.
Solis encouraged the neighbors to enter the information center, set up in the street at 52nd St. and Everett Ave., to talk with workers from the L.A. County Department of Public Health.