The Los Angeles Fire Department has no record of an inspection of the building where a May 16 explosion took place and severely burned 11 firefighters, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.
LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said an earlier inspection might have led to the seizure of some of the chemicals that fueled the blast, according to the Times, which reported that it was unclear if the LAFD had ever inspected the building, which was constructed in 1999.
The business address for Smoke Tokes, a Boyd Street retailer that stored large quantities of butane for sale before it burst into flames, “was not found in the LAFD fire prevention database, and records of inspection were never completed,” according to an LAFD report made public earlier this year.
“From what I saw shortly after the incident, they were obviously overstocked, and we would have cleared inventory, directed them to reduce inventory, cleared aisles, cleared product away from the doors, basically make it safe for our firefighters in the event there was an emergency,” Terrazas told the Times.
Those records showed that building inspectors visited the Boyd Street address just once between 2002 and the date of the fire, when a proactive code enforcement case was opened in 2008.
The fire prevention database is used to generate lists of addresses to which individual firehouses need to send personnel for inspections.
Terrazas told the Times that Smoke Tokes would have required an annual visit from a fire inspector, and given the large quantities of butane and nitrous oxide found in the building, it did not appear that it had been inspected in the period before the fire.
The explosion created a 30-foot fireball that shot into the sky over downtown.
More than 300 criminal charges have been filed against the owners and operators of four downtown Los Angeles buildings and three businesses for alleged fire code and safety violations by City Attorney Mike Feuer.
“The fire and explosion that ripped through the Boyd Street property caused our firefighters great suffering — and came perilously close to costing their lives. We’ll do everything we can to hold the owners and operators of buildings and businesses responsible for complying with our fire and safety codes,” the city attorney said in a written statement. “The public is counting on us to protect them from a potential catastrophe.”
Among those facing charges is Steve Sungho Lee, 56, who owns the building at 327 E. Boyd St.
Lee — who is set to be arraigned Nov. 19 in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom — could face up to 68 years in jail and thousands of dollars in fines if convicted as charged, according to the City Attorney’s Office.
The businesses Smoke Tokes, Green Buddha and Bio Hazard, which are housed in the building — nicknamed “bong row” — are also among those charged.
Calls by City News Service to the attorney representing the businesses charged were not responded to immediately.
The fire was reported at 6:26 p.m. on May 16, and crews were inside when a “significant explosion” shook the neighborhood around Smoke Tokes Warehouse Distributor, “a supplier for those who make butane honey oil,” LAFD Capt. Erik Scott said soon afterward.
John McDevitt, a fire safety expert and former assistant fire chief in Upper Darby, Pa., told the Times the LAFD’s failure to inspect the building was a gross oversight, especially given bong row’s status as a hub for the sale of explosive and flammable materials.
“The images of the fire clearly show it was not normal combustibles,” McDevitt said. “This should have been on someone’s radar and not just overlooked.”
Although the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has yet to issue a report determining the exact cause of the fire, the LAFD’s report said the “excessive quantity” of nitrous oxide, or N2O, and butane inside the building was a key factor, causing N2O “chargers” to rupture, according to the Times.