Four firefighters injured in a fiery explosion in the downtown Los Angeles Toy District over the weekend remain hospitalized Tuesday.
Eleven firefighters were initially hospitalized with burn injuries after a “massive fireball” engulfed them during the explosion Saturday, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. Seven have been released.
A GoFundMe account has raised nearly $70,000 of its $80,000 goal to assist the family of LAFD Capt. Victor Aguirre, who was injured in the explosion. The money will be used for long-term bills, as well as to bring meals to his wife and children, who are staying at a hotel near where he was hospitalized.
It was not immediately clear if Aguirre was one of the firefighters who was released on Monday and Sunday.
The LAFD’s arson and counterterrorism unit, the criminal conspiracy section of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Major Crimes Division and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating whether criminal conduct was involved in the explosion.
“The National Response Team … along with ATF special agents from the Los Angeles Field Division, were activated today to join the investigation of the fire,” the ATF said in a statement Monday, as experts arrived to begin processing the scene.
The NRT was activated at the request of the Los Angeles city officials, according to ATF.
“ATF is committed to working alongside Los Angeles Fire Department to determine the origin and cause of this fire that tragically injured firefighters,” said Monique Villegas, special agent in charge of ATF’s Los Angeles Field Division. “ATF will provide whatever resources are necessary to thoroughly investigate and provide answers.”
Carbon dioxide and butane canisters were found inside the building but it is unknown if they contributed to the explosion, LAFD spokesman Nicholas Prange told City News Service.
The explosion occurred about 6:30 p.m. Saturday while firefighters responded to the initial call of a fire in a single-story building at 327 Boyd St., between East Third and Fourth streets, housing Smoke Tokes Warehouse Distributor, “a supplier for those who make butane honey oil,” according to LAFD Capt. Erik Scott.
Firefighters had begun an offensive battle inside the building when there was an explosion and multiple buildings became involved, Scott said.
“There was a significant explosion that caused a mayday report,” Scott said. “This was upgraded to a major emergency category.”
Some of the 11 firefighters suffered “obvious damage and burns” in the explosion and were taken to County-USC Medical Center, according to Scott, who said two of them were listed in critical but stable condition. A 12th firefighter was treated and released from an emergency room Saturday for a minor extremity injury.
Dr. Marc Eckstein, medical director for the LAFD and a physician at County-USC Medical Center, said the 11 hospitalized firefighters arrived awake and alert, but two were put on ventilators due to smoke inhalation and four were sent to the intensive care unit for burns.
Most of the burns, Eckstein said, were on their upper extremities.
On Sunday, the two firefighters were removed from ventilators, but remained in intensive care, Prange said.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, at a briefing Sunday night, said: “The good news is that everybody is going to make it,” but added, “We have a lot of firefighters who are shaken up.”
LAFD Chief Ralph M. Terrazas said the mayday call, which is used only when a firefighter is “down, missing or trapped,” was “the kind of call I always dread.”
Terrazas said the injured men, who were from Engine No. 9, realized something was wrong when they were inside the building but could not escape in time to avoid the blast. Their fire engine parked outside was charred, and the aerial ladder was damaged — with eyewitnesses saying firefighters on that ladder climbed down with their coats on fire.
Multiple ambulances and fire companies were called to the scene, with more than 230 firefighters responding and establishing a treatment area just east of the building.
The fire, which spread from the narrow one-story building where it originated to neighboring businesses, was knocked down at 8:08 p.m.
The cause of the fire “is of paramount concern,” Scott said.
Earl King, a 64-year-old man who lives in an alley a block from the building that went up in flames, said at first the smoke was so minor he thought it was just a trash can fire.
“The smoke was getting bigger,” he said. “And then all the sudden there was a big ‘ole popping sound…POP, POP, POP…That’s when, BOOM! And then we can feel it — you know that little vibration.”
The sound reminded him of a large train chugging right toward him, he said.
“It scared the hell outta me,” he said. “And then when we looked up we seen all the smoke, and the ashes coming down with fire on ’em…. It was no joke. It was no joke.”
King said the blaze seemed to be in a complex that includes a vape shop warehouse where he’s worked as a day laborer.
“We be doin’ their containers,” he said. “You know, unload their truck.”
King said when he was working in the building he noticed plenty of flammable materials.
“A lot of those warehouses have chemicals, you know the stuff, like butane for lighters or whatever,” he said.