Los Angeles mega-fire: Federal team set to investigate

Federal team ready to investigate cause of massive Los Angeles blaze

A federal team is set to undertake the investigation into the massive fire in downtown Los Angeles that caused millions of dollars in damage and shut down the 110 Freeway for several hours Monday.

The team is made up of specialized arson investigators from the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, an accelerant-sniffing dog, engineers and others who will attempt to root out the cause of the blaze, according to LAFD Capt. Jaime Moore.

The federal investigation may begin as early as Wednesday, Moore said.

It took 250 firefighters an hour and a half to put out the fire that broke out in the DaVinci apartment complex about 1:20 a.m. Monday. The development, now under construction, encompasses a city block and lies at the juncture of the 110 and 101 freeways. It was in the process of being framed, mostly with wood. No injuries were reported.

The last of a slew of lane and freeway transition closures caused by the fire were lifted just ahead of Tuesday morning’s rush hour, defusing what could have been a second consecutive day of traffic mayhem.

About 5:30 a.m., the California Highway Patrol reopened the northbound 110 Freeway’s connections with the 10 Freeway and the rest of the lanes it had blocked to the southbound 101. The fire next to the freeway Monday morning had damaged fiber-optic cables beneath the road and melted signs above it.

The damage kept one of Los Angeles’ main northbound arteries for downtown commuters closed all of Monday morning and crews had only repaired enough of it for a partial reopening by the evening drive. Authorities estimate the closures added up to an hour to some motorists’ morning drive as thousands tried to find alternate routes.

For Caltrans, the focus now turns to making up to $1.5 million in repairs to the freeway. For law enforcement, the focus is on how the fire started, and if it was intentional.  Officials say that they are inclined to believe the fire was intentionally set.

LAFD Capt. Jaime Moore said blazes of this magnitude are always treated as criminal fires but added "it's very rare for the entire building to be engulfed at once."

"There may have been some foul play," he said.

By Monday afternoon, federal investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had boarded a fire crane to peer down into the smoldering mess. With several floors of the building collapsed on top of one another, investigators will have to pick through layers of debris to determine what caused the fire, said Carlos Canino, the top ATF agent in Los Angeles.

A series of dense, upscale apartment complexes have been built over the last decade around 110-101 interchange, including the Da Vinci.

Developer Geoffrey Palmer's company is known for the Orsini, the Medici and other faux-Italian apartment buildings that have risen along the four-level interchange. The complexes have been part of the revitalization of downtown, though critics have complained about the design and size of the buildings.

The building was in the news earlier this year when the developer sought a pedestrian bridge that would link the Da Vinci to other complexes in the area and offer residents a route to downtown attractions. The bridge proposal faced criticism from some in downtown, but the City Council approved it in May.

The developer has also told the city that people living under the 110 Freeway would pose a safety threat to future renters.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

9:25 a.m.: This post was updated with additional details about the upcoming federal investigation.

It was originally published at 6:42 a.m.

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