NORTH HOLLYWOOD - LAFD firefighters battled a blaze in three adjacent commercial buildings, fending off electrical hazards and building collapse, to extinguish the inferno in just over 3 hours.
Video by Cody Weireter
A pile of oily rags were the culprit of a massive commercial structure fire on Lankershim Blvd just before midnight on November 1, 2019. Painting-related chemicals provided for a chemical reaction with the rags they were saturating and produced enough heat for them to spontaneously combust. Firefighters arrived to find fire blowing through the roof of the commercial building. Crews made access to enter the building and began cutting holes in the roof to ventilate the structure. As fire blew out of every hold that was cut, despite their continuous attempts to retreat to a less involved area to continue cutting, the decision was made to pull companies off the roof and out of the structure, and assume a defensive posture. The heavy fire load in the business quickly grew the fire, which spread to two more nearby commercial buildings.
The combined 40,000 square-foot fireball burned for over 3 hours, while 127 firefighters worked the perimeter to "surround and drown" the fire. Firefighters navigated around electrical wires down, and roof and wall collapses during the fight. By nearly 3:00 AM, the flames waved the white flag and gave up, succumbing to the three hour tour of large-diameter hose streams raining down, guided by spotters on the radio with a better vantage point. Ladder pipes, portable monitors, and 2-1/2-inch hand lines were all used in the deluge. The emergency was mitigated, but the work was not done.
Firefighters stayed on scene to overhaul the buildings and the debris pile for days following, while the pile continued to smoke. Plastics and other materials had melted throughout the pile, creating a water-resistant layer that protected hot spots under the surface from hose streams. LAFD tractor companies came out at first light the next morning to turn over the pile. A track loader (Caterpillar 953) and a wheel loader (Caterpillar IT28), driven by LAFD Heavy Equipment Operators, worked for days to continue overhauling the buildings and turn over debris, allowing firefighters to continue to put water on the materials to cool it off. Companies from all over the city rotated shifts during the days after, on "fire watch" to ensure nothing flared up and to continue to apply water while the tractors operated.
Fire investigators from the LAFD Arson/Counter-Terrorism Section obtained video evidence that enabled them to make the determination that the cause was accidental, due to spontaneous combustion. Near the end of the video from an internal surveillance camera, rags with painting-related chemicals on them (left on a bench) can be seen spontaneously combusting due to a chemical reaction. This is a sobering reminder to properly dispose of oily and chemical-soaked rags properly. Fortunately, no one was hurt during this Major Emergency fire.
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