What Ignited the Los Angeles Freeway Fire?

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom (and stealth candidate for the presidency) declared a state of emergency on Saturday night in response to a devastating Los Angeles blaze that shut down a part of Interstate 10 Downtown “until further notice,” according to local officials. Local reports indicate that the cause of this fire is not yet known, but it’s obvious. I will get to that shortly.

KTLA-5 reported that “officials warned the public to expect significant delays over the next few days and weeks” as all lanes in a stretch of two miles along the I-10 downtown will be closed until further notice. Los Angeles already has too many freeways. I-10 being partially closed downtown will only make an already bad situation even worse.

According to the article, “the fire was so hot it melted some steel guardrails and cement pillars.” The fire spread over eight acres before it was contained.

Karen Bass, the Mayor of L.A., compared the damages to those caused by the Northridge Earthquake in 1994. She said that back then “Caltrans worked round the clock to finish emergency repairs on the freeways… this structural damage requires the same level urgency and effort.”

This is the scene from Sunday after the fires were extinguished.

According to LAist “more than 164 firefighters battled the fire,” which was largely contained in three hours. Some hotspots were still in difficult-to-reach places underneath the freeway, and robotic equipment had to be brought in. The last fires were put out on Sunday.

I was immediately curious about the cause of the fire. Was there enough fuel under an overpass to ignite a conflagration large enough to cause such damage? This question leads us to the unnamed culprit…

A KTLA article stated that the squatters in a homeless encampment under the I-10 overpass “were forced to evacuate” as fires engulfed and concrete columns supporting the camp collapsed.

We don’t often see anything under our overpasses in Southern Colorado except the odd motorcyclist who is waiting out a storm. It’s easy for us to forget how life is in places such as Los Angeles where major overpasses are now major homeless encampments.

Before Saturday’s “rubbish flames”, this is how the area looked before it was burned out.

Notice the massive stacks of wood pallets in the background.

According to the LA Fire Department, there is an “outdoor yard of pallets” near Ceres Ave. However, this doesn’t explain the high stacks of flammable pallets underneath the freeway. ABC-7 reported that “a storage area under the freeway”, at E. 14th Street was a potential tinderbox. The fire “would eventually burn 8 acres, which is the equivalent of 6 football fields.”

According to NBC-4, a local vendor of food heard “many explosives” during the fire.

According to a local report, up to 50 people have made the underpass home.

Anybody who has been close to an “urban camping” set-up knows that propane tanks can be seen everywhere. Everyone knows they are a KABLOOEY when there is a fire. I suppose Los Angeles is lucky that no one was killed.

It is too early to be sure, but it seems that the combination of improper pallet storage and the hazards of homelessness are responsible for the permanent closure of I-10, which carries over a quarter of a million cars every day.

Local authorities are supposed to have a report out on Monday detailing what happened. Whether it’s an honest report or a whitewash remains to be seen, so stay tuned.