Smaller Arson Fire Doused at Central Library

Times Staff Writer

Flames erupted again late Wednesday in the Los Angeles Central Library, where a $22-million arson fire last April 29 destroyed hundreds of thousands of books and artworks, but this time nearly 100 firefighters confined the blaze to one room.

Nevertheless, said library spokesman Michael Leonard, the latest fire burned an undetermined number of books and other items in the reading room of the art and music department, where some of the sheet music, volumes and scores were more than a century old.

“We can’t begin to put a value on the collection,” said City Librarian Wyman H. Jones. “This was sort of like ‘Nightmare: Part II.’ It was a replay of what happened several months ago.”

There was no immediate official statement that arson was suspected, but Los Angeles City Fire Department arson investigator Tony Lapalio said outside the historic downtown structure, “The bug who lit this thing is here in the crowd right now.”


He said investigators were watching spectators for anyone matching the description of a man reported by a witness to have set the April fire.

Fire Chief Donald Manning said only that Wednesday’s blaze was under investigation and added, “Obviously, the arson investigators will be looking for some similar type of activity for a modus operandi.

The library at 5th and Hope streets has been closed to the public since the bigger fire and only security guards were known to be inside at 6:17 p.m., when someone spotted smoke pouring from a second-floor window of the east wing and called firefighters, Leonard said. He said staff people had left for the day.

Twenty-five engine companies responded and extinguished the blaze in about 30 minutes, officials said. No injuries were reported.

Leonard said that since the April 29 fire, 85% of the total collection had been moved out of the Central Library--with many water-soaked books put in cold storage and dry books stored elsewhere. But the remaining 15% remained, being cleaned and inventoried.

The city Library Commission recently selected the old Bullocks store at 7th and Hill streets to serve as an interim library while the damaged structure undergoes major refurbishing and expansion, planned before the April fire.