Officials Monday said a hazardous materials investigation has been completed at the site of the massive weekend fire that closed part of the Santa Monica (10) Freeway in downtown Los Angeles, and preliminary work has begun to shore up the affected structure and plan the timeline for the reconstruction project.
“As we made clear yesterday (Sunday), this was a huge fire, and the damage will not be fixed in an instant,” said Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass during a Monday morning news conference at the city’s traffic control center.
“Engineers have worked all night and are working right now to determine our path forward. But I have made it clear with our local, state and federal partners that any unnecessary bureaucracy or delays are not happening here.”
At the news conference, officials noted that the state fire marshal’s report on the cause of the fire was expected to be completed some time this morning, but it is unknown when the information would be released to the public.
“Losing this stretch of the 10 Freeway will take time and money from people’s lives and businesses,” Bass said. “It’s disrupting in every way. Whether you are talking about traveling to and from work, or your child care plans and the flow of goods and commerce, this will disrupt the lives of Angelenos. So, I will not settle for anything other than a rebuilding plan and a timeline that becomes a new model for speed.”
Bass outlined what she called “a three-pronged approach” to handling the problem.
“Number one, ensuring that we are coordinating a comprehensive plan from the city’s traffic center and our emergency operations center to address the traffic impacts of this closure with our local, state and federal partners,” Bass said.
The second part of the plan is “getting the 10 Freeway up and running as fast as possible, and bringing accountability to that effort,” the mayor said.
“And finally, providing updated and detailed information to ensure that our communities and commuters are well informed every step of the way,” Bass said.
According to Bass, officials have been reaching out to the community via the “wireless emergency alert” system, as well as announcements on Nextdoor and Instagram Live.
“The impact on all travelers, you can check your travel navigation apps, and we would encourage employers if it is at all possible to have your workforce work remotely,” the mayor said. “I want everyone to understand that we were acting urgently and we will not stop. I want to make sure that the city upholds our end of the bargain.”
Bass urged commuters entering downtown to stay on the freeways as much as possible.
“There will be clear signage routing you around the closure, and those routes are the best way through,” Bass said. “If you have to pull onto surface streets, make sure you visit emergency.lacity.gov to be aware of the surface street routes that we have established to move traffic in the best way. Please also consider [public] transit. You can find that information at metro.net or call 511 to find the route most convenient for you.”
On Sunday, Bass and Gov. Gavin Newsom toured the site and appeared with transportation officials at a Sunday afternoon briefing, where they offered no timetable for reopening the freeway, but promised a “24/7” operation and stressed that every possible effort was being made to hasten the safety evaluation and initiate the needed repairs.
“I have directed all city departments to urgently respond to the impacts of this closure by ensuring that there is a plan for the hundreds of thousands of Angelenos who commute or live by this incident, and I am in touch with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Governor Newsom and our state partners to ensure that there are no barriers to getting this portion of the 10 Freeway up and running as fast as possible,” Bass said in a statement.
The mayor cited the 1994 Northridge earthquake and the massive efforts that followed to repair area freeways. “This structure damage calls for the same urgency and effort,” she said.
“While the repairs are being made, it is my top priority that we provide as much information as possible to ensure that our communities, our commuters, our businesses and all those who are impacted by this are well informed each step of the way,” the mayor said.
Bass said 16 unhoused people at an encampment near the fire site were all put into housing. She said there was no correlation between the encampment and the fire at this time.
Newsom said completion of the on-site investigation into the cause of the fire would allow for more complete hazmat work to proceed.
He also noted the fire occurred at the same site where he and other officials attended a recent cleanup of a homeless encampment.
The governor said the initial assessment showed that “dozens and dozens of columns” have been damaged, but the freeway’s bridge deck was the primary focus.
“Our ability to rebuild columns is a much shorter time period than the bridge deck itself,” he said.
Newsom also revealed that the entity leasing the property where the pallet yard caught on fire early Saturday was in violation of the terms of their lease, and added that litigation is ongoing in the case. Newsom said more details would be provided later, but he mentioned that the lease had expired, and the party in question is suspected of subleasing the property.
Newsom’s emergency order directs Caltrans to request assistance through the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Program. He said Sunday that no regulations would impede the efforts to reopen the freeway, noting that with more than 300,000 people using the road daily, it holds “significant consequence to the economy and the health and safety of Angelenos.”
He added that 2 million pounds of steel was available to move in immediately while officials assess broader supply chain issues.
“The answer is yes. I don’t even care what the question is — the answer is yes, in terms of what her (Bass) needs are, and what the county’s needs are” Newsom said.
Deputy District Director of Caltrans John Yang also said that “structural engineers are on site to take samples of the columns and the freeway” to determine their viability.
Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Karen Crowley said the LAFD arson investigators have yielded the lead in that investigation to CalFire arson investigators. She also said the LAFD did not have any patients as a result of the fire. There was also no information regarding whether the fire started in one of the homeless encampments.
Laura Rubio-Cornejo, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, said her agency was closely monitoring traffic issues and would adjust traffic signals in the area as needed.
For motorists who must traverse the downtown area, Rubio-Cornejo said traffic officers have been at the scene since Saturday morning to inform and assist drivers.
Toks Omnishakin, the state’s secretary of transportation, said this emergency will need, “all hands on deck” to deal with it.
He also urged drivers to use the I-5, I-10 and SR 60 to get into downtown Los Angles.
Doug Young, an assistant chief with the CHP, provided the following freeway detours:
- drivers on eastbound I-10 will be diverted at Alameda Street;
- drivers on the westbound 60 will be diverted to northbound I-5 or northbound 101;
- drivers on southbound I-5 will be diverted onto the westbound I-10 but must take the first exit at Mateo Street; and
- drivers on northbound I-5 must divert to the northbound 101.
Meanwhile, Metrolink said it will expand service beginning Monday on its San Bernardino Line to support travelers impacted by the Interstate 10 closure in downtown Los Angeles. The agency will increase capacity and run added service on the line to and from the Inland Empire and downtown LA. Six extra trains will run in each direction — three in the morning and three in the afternoon/evening.
CEO of Metro and chair of the Metro Board Stephanie Wiggins said the public should plan ahead, share the ride and take note of the real time updates issued by officials to the public. She said the public should call 323 metro or get to 511.com to get the most updated information on public transit.
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said, “All schools and offices will remain open. For families whose students use school bus transportation, the schedule of your route could be impacted by the closure of the 10 Freeway, but service will continue to be provided. Specific information will be provided directly to families by our Transportation Services Division this afternoon and tomorrow morning. Families who have questions about district transportation are encouraged to contact 1-800-LA-BUSES (522-8737).”
Carvalho also said students coming from Boyle Heights as definitely being impacted.
The initial fire was reported at 12:22 a.m. Saturday in the 1700 block of East 14th Street, two blocks west of Alameda Street, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Margaret Stewart.
Firefighters from 26 companies worked feverishly to contain and extinguish the major emergency fire, which started in one downtown pallet yard, spread to another and consumed a fire engine that became stuck in its path, Stewart said.
The first pallet yard was 40,000 square feet in size and fully involved with flames that engulfed multiple trailers when firefighters arrived. The flames spread to the second pallet yard of similar size between Lawrence and Elwood streets.
Stewart said that by 2:33 a.m. Saturday, pallets in both yards were mostly consumed by the flames and firefighters were using bulldozers to move debris and put out hot spots.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power assisted by boosting water pressure in the area for the high volume needed. The agency also dealt with a cross arm of energized high-tension wire that fell on 14th Street.
Firefighters successfully prevented the fire from spreading to three nearby commercial buildings, Stewart said.
Updated Nov. 13, 2023, 10:41 a.m.