Update 6:00 p.m.: Container terminals expected to reopen by 6 p.m., authorities said.

A stubborn wharf fire prompted authorities to temporarily close container terminals at the region’s twin ports Tuesday, as firefighters worked to smother creosote-treated wood that burned through the night and created an acrid cloud of smoke.

The Port of Los Angeles closed 11 container terminals, leaving four open, and the Port of Long Beach closed three of six terminals.

By late Tuesday afternoon, the fire was more than 90 percent contained. A spokesman for the Port of L.A. said terminal operations would resume about 6 p.m., except at the Pasha terminal at Berth 177, where the fire started.

Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of L.A., thanked firefighters and other port-area agencies for their cooperation.

“We’re particularly grateful to our neighbors in Long Beach for their cooperation and assistance,” he said.

Together, the twin ports are the busiest on the West Coast.

Earlier today, the regional air quality agency warned that anyone who could see or smell smoke from the blaze should avoid outdoor exposure and activities. Creosote, a carcinogenic extract of tar or coal, is used as a wood preservative.

By about 5 p.m., public safety agencies involved in the fire determined the air around the port was safe to breathe.

Long Beach City Manager Pat West announced that three of six container terminals at the Port of Long Beach were closed as a precaution due to poor air quality.

The Los Angeles Unified School District announced that all schools affected by the fire would implement a “modified shelter in place schedule.”

About 700 students from Wilmington’s De La Torre Elementary School were moved to Olguin High School on the campus of San Pedro High School.

No injuries were reported from the fire, which broke out at 6:41 p.m. Monday at berths 177-179 at 802 S. Fries Ave., where cargo ships are loaded and unloaded, Katherine Main of the Los Angeles Fire Department said. The fire burned about 150 feet of a pier and forced the evacuation of 850 workers.

This morning, firefighters working from land and from boats were using foam on the fire, which was hard to get to, because it was burning under the paved deck along the waterfront.

Main said that while the blaze, started by a welder, was largely contained within about two hours, it continued to smolder. The timbers are coated with water-resistant but flammable creosote.

LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said the fire was caused by welder using a torch.

“This is a very, very difficult fire to fight,” Terrazas said. “The fire is deep-seated, and will continue to burn for some time.”

Terrazas said at least five fireboats were deployed, along with two fireboats from the Long Beach Fire Department. Helicopter crews and divers also helped battle the flames.

At a noon briefing, Terrazas said the “unified command structure” worked as designed.

“The reality is … there were many agencies involved,” Terrazas said. “There is LAPD, the L.A. port police, the Long Beach Fire Department, the United States Coast Guard, and others. Because of that seamless team, we were able to successfully bring bring this fire under control.”

Terrazas said fire boats were deployed to sweep the 800-foot-long wharf facility, which is about 50 feet wide.

“At one point, there was fire the entire length of the wharf,” Terrazas said.

Terrazas said a key tactic in the success of the firefighting effort was the deployment — and the redeployment — of fire boats along different parts of the wharf as the fire raged.

Terrazas said firefighters would continue working this afternoon to fully extinguish the flames and douse hot spots, including the underwater effort by dive teams.

Many Port of Los Angeles operations continued during the firefighting effort, including a cruise ship that was allowed to enter the facility this morning. Ships were routed away from the immediate area of the fire, a port official said.

Because of smoke from the fire, residents near the port were advised to keep their windows closed, their air conditioning off, and to avoid going outdoors.

Mid-morning, the South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory for coastal areas in south Los Angeles County and north Orange County.

“In areas impacted by the fire, where residents can see or smell smoke, individuals should avoid outdoor exposure and activity if possible,” according to the SCAQMD. “With the sea breeze this morning, more on-shore areas may also experience smoke.”

After the fire began, a backhoe was used to dig a trench in the tarmac where the wharf meets the land to prevent fire from spreading. Docked boats were moved to safety, Main said, and workers were evacuated as a precaution.

Firefighters from the Long Beach Fire Department also were among the 150 firefighters battling the four-alarm blaze.

The fire was in a 40-acre area from where big cargo ships load and unload. Four people were evacuated from the warehouse. The fire did not burn in the warehouse, but threatened the pier underneath it, Main said.

City News Service

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