Some of the families who were forced to evacuate their South Los Angeles homes when a police attempt to detonate a cache of illegal fireworks resulted in an explosion that damaged multiple structures and injured more than a dozen people could return home Thursday.
Representatives of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were scheduled to have a closed-door, midday meeting with residents to brief them on their investigation into the blast before clearing them to return to their homes to assess the damage, said Dedee Verdin, a spokeswoman for City Councilman Curren Price.
Some residents may not be able to immediately move back into their homes, depending on the extent of damage caused when Los Angeles Police Department bomb experts tried to destroy the seized fireworks. Police said they believed some of the materials were too unstable to transport, prompting the decision to detonate them in a containment truck.
The blast, however, destroyed the truck and caused a massive blast radius, damaging multiple homes in the neighborhood and injuring 17 law enforcement personnel and residents. The damage extended at least a half-block from the blast, and at least two homes were red-tagged as uninhabitable.
Residents described the blast as similar to the earthquake. It broke windows, caused trees to fall and caused structural damage to homes and businesses, Verdin said.
Residents who still can’t return home will be able to remain in hotel rooms provided to them, Verdin said. She said more than 50 people in 10 families have been utilizing the resource while others stayed with friends and relatives.
Authorities have said about 32,000 pounds of fireworks were being stored at a home on East 27th Street. The resident, Arturo Ceja III, 27, was charged with illegally transporting tons of explosives. He appeared in federal court in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday, and his bond was set at $25,000. He is set to be arraigned Aug. 2.
Prosecutors said Ceja purchased most of the explosives from a dealer in Pahrump, Nevada. In addition to the commercial fireworks, the initial search of Ceja’s residence led to the discovery of over 140 other homemade fireworks — typically referred to M devices of varying sizes — as well as explosives-making components, including hobby fuses that matched the fuse on a homemade mortar shell wrapped in tin foil discovered inside the residence, according to a court affidavit.
Despite the charges against Ceja, some residents and activists have been demanding accountability from the LAPD, suggesting the agency should face penalties — and possibly even criminal charges — for detonating the materials in a residential neighborhood.