Los Angeles

110 Freeway Lanes Remain Closed in Downtown LA After Blaze

Traffic through downtown Los Angeles was slow-moving as investigators worked to determine the cause of an enormous fire that burned down an under-construction apartment complex, leaving smoldering debris spanning the length of more than two football fields along the 110 Freeway.

About 200 firefighters battled a major fire at a large apartment building under construction in downtown Los Angeles early Monday morning.

A team of 20 ATF investigators were set to arrive to LA on Tuesday. They'll be joining city and county investigators in trying to determine the cause of the blaze, which was estimated to have caused tens of millions of dollars in damage.

Federal investigators plan to run background checks on workers and review every piece of video.

As of 4:15 a.m. Tuesday, the number one and two lanes of the northbound 110 Freeway was re-opened but the other lanes remained closed between the 10 Freeway and the 101 Freeway, California Highway Patrol officials said. The on-ramps between Third and Sixth streets were also closed, along with the westbound 10 transition to the northbound 110 Freeway. 

Several surface streets in the surrounding area of Fremont Avenue were also shut down, including a stretch of Temple Street west of Grand Avenue as workers tore down a standing portion of the structure.

"To come this morning and see everything that we've been working on all gone, I'm like, there goes my job and all the hard work that we put into it," said construction worker Norm Mason.

Flames consumed the seven-story, wood-framed structure and radiated enough heat to shatter the windows of office towers on Figueroa Street, reaching inside to melt computers onto desks. The Department of Water and Power reported cracks in at least 160 of its 10-by-4-foot windows.

Caltrans officials said overhead signs on the 110 Freeway were melted and will need to be replaced.

Even as the ignition source remains unknown, there is no question what fueled the ferocity of the flames: five stories of wooden framing sprawling an entire city block.

Like other midrise apartment buildings developed by Geoffrey Palmer, the complex called the DaVinci was designed with concrete and steel for the bottom parking and commercial floors, and wood framing for the residential levels above.

The building code permits a maximum of five levels to be framed in wood, according to Luke Zamperini with the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety. Taller building requires reinforced concrete or steel framing.

With fire sprinklers and other precautions built into midrise buildings, apartments with wood framing are not considered more vulnerable to fire when completed, but the exposed wood can be a fire hazard during construction.

As a matter of policy, the city of Los Angeles is encouraging highrise development in downtown, according to City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents the area.

"Not so much because of the safety, but because of the density," Huizar said.

San Francisco launched a review of construction practices after an October fire caused millions of dollars in damage to a commercial building under construction with both wood and steel structural

Prevention is a goal of post-fire followup, said Deputy Chief Joseph Castro, of the Los Angeles Fire Fire Department, who directed the response to the DaVinci blaze. He said changes to the building code could be considered.

Lolita Lopez contributed to this report.

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