The massive fire that forced the indefinite closure of parts of Interstate 10a major traffic artery in Los Angeles, was intentionally closed, California Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday.
A preliminary investigation found there was “malicious intent,” Newsom said at a news conference, adding that it was “done and intentional.”
An investigation is still underway and the governor did not say whether there were any suspects or leads on the origin of the fire.
Mayor Karen Bass described the highway closure as a “crisis” for a city already known for its traffic problems. She urged travelers to prepare for delays and plan alternate routes while the highway remains closed in both directions near Alameda Street in the city’s bustling downtown.
Before Monday morning’s commute, a citywide alert was sent to residents’ cellphones, warning that the highway “will be closed indefinitely” and “expect heavy traffic.”
The closure “added about 10 minutes to my day and it’s just more anxiety and stress than the normal morning,” said Diana Enriquez, a commuter at CNN affiliate KABC.
Another commuter, Tony Behrstock, described the effect of the closure as “horrible”.
“I’m unhappy,” he told KABC.
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More than 300,000 people use the highway corridor every day, said Transportation Secretary Toks Omishakin, almost as many as the population of Pittsburgh.
“This has significant consequences for the economy, for the health and safety of Angelenos,” Newsom said. “The impact on our schools, on vulnerable communities – we take all of that very seriously, and we are sober and aware of the urgency of opening this up.”
The city is scrambling to assess road safety and repair damage caused by a raging fire at a a storage yard early Saturday that spread under the freeway to ignite a second storage facility, ultimately engulfing about 80,000 square feet and destroying several vehicles, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
There is no estimated timetable for reopening the section of the highway, but Bass warned Sunday that the problem “won’t be resolved in one or two days.”
Jae C. Hong/AP
Interstate 10 remains empty due to a closure following Monday’s fire.
The state Transportation Department urged commuters to work from home or take public transportation, if possible.
Nearby school bus routes are also subject to change, although public schools will remain open, according to the LA Unified School District. announcement.
The Port of Los Angeles warned travelers to prepare for heavy traffic Monday morning, flagging updates and alternate routes.
Newsom declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles County due to the closure and said the state would assess the damage and begin making repairs as soon as the site was accessible.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement he was in contact with California officials, adding that the federal highway administrator was expected in Los Angeles on Monday.
The cause of this massive fire remains unclear although the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has completed its portion of the investigation, and work now begins to determine the safety of a bridge burned in the fire , officials said at a news conference Monday.
“Right now, we don’t think it will collapse,” John Yang, deputy district director for construction for the California Department of Transportation, said Monday of the damaged section of the highway.
Structural assessment of I-10 is ongoing, but “the structural integrity of the bridge appears to be much stronger than initially assessed,” California Governor Newsom said at a press conference Monday, citing preliminary tests.
Additional structural tests “should be back tomorrow morning” and officials will then decide whether to replace the entire structure or continue renovating and reinforcing the highway, Newsom said.
A line of about 100 columns on the bridge damaged in the fire is being inspected as part of the process, Transportation Department Director Tony Tavares said at the news conference.
The bridge has five lanes in each direction and the affected area is about 450 feet long, Yang said.
“It’s a wide, very wide bridge,” Yang said.
Photos of the aftermath provided by the state show black stains left after the fire and patches of concrete missing from the columns, exposing metal parts and the interior portions of the support columns.
Caltrans District 7/AP
A Los Angeles firefighter uses a robotic hose to extinguish a fire under Interstate 10 that severely damaged a downtown Los Angeles overpass on Saturday.
Hazmat crews will work around the clock to clean up damage on Interstate 10, according to Newsom, who said the extent of damage from the fire is “considerably greater” than that caused by the fire. collapse of a portion of Interstate 95 in Philadelphia in June.
“You name it, we’ve seen it stored at this site,” said Newsom, who visited the site Sunday. Wooden pallets, cars filled with gasoline and crates of oranges were all found under the Los Angeles Bridge, officials said.
Crews are working to take core samples from the highway foundation to the bridge deck.
“We are not concerned about the safety of workers working below,” Yang added.
Samples of concrete and rebar have been taken from beneath the highway and are being analyzed to determine the repair strategy, California Transportation Secretary Toks Omishakin said.
Firefighters responded to reports of a fire around 12:30 a.m. Saturday in a 200-foot by 200-foot storage yard “with pallets, trailers and vehicles well involved in the fire” and exposed buildings, according to firefighters.
“The wind pushed heat and flames under the highway, and across the street ignited a secondary storage yard,” Fire Chief Kristin Crowley said Sunday.
Jae C. Hong/AP
The site of a fire is shown under Interstate 10, in an aerial view, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, in Los Angeles.
Most of the fire was extinguished within three hours and firefighters were able to save three nearby commercial buildings, Crowley said. More than 160 firefighters responded to the scene, she added.
No injuries were reported following the fire, the fire chief said.
When asked by reporters why flammable materials were allowed to be stored under the bridge, the governor replied: “All of that is being evaluated.” »
Newsom said the site’s tenant violated its lease. “We are in litigation, their lease has expired and we have been aggressive in addressing concerns related to the lease itself,” he said.
Officials believe the tenant “sublet the space…with multiple sublets, that’s part of the dispute,” Newsom said.