Blaze Races Through Tallest L.A. Skyscraper

Times Staff Writers

Fire exploded on three floors of the 62-story First Interstate Bank Building late Wednesday night, spreading into a ring of flame that encircled all four sides of the city’s tallest structure.

Flaming debris from shattering windows rained down on downtown streets as rescue helicopters plucked late-night workers from the roof of the stricken building. Fire Chief Donald Manning said the building had no sprinkler systems, and fire crews were attacking the raging blaze from inside the structure.

There were no official reports of fatalities or injuries, although bystanders reported seeing some who escaped the building being taken away in ambulances. In addition, there was an unconfirmed report of people trapped in an elevator.


Smoke Inhalation

One firefighter broke off an interview, saying he had to help someone with a burn. Another fire official said at least 25 people suffered smoke inhalation.

At least eight people were rescued from the building’s roof by helicopters in the first hour after the blaze was discovered.

More than 120 firefighters from at least 36 engine companies were rushed in to fight the flames in the bank building, located at the corner of Hope Street and Wilshire Boulevard.

Firefighters were attacking the blaze by climbing up stairs from the first floor and climbing down from the roof, one fire official said.

Flames were first reported at 10:37 p.m. by maintenance crews working in the building, fire officials said, and within half an hour raged to a height of 20 feet.

Black smoke billowed hundreds of feet above the bank, obscuring the view of rescue helicopters that shone their spotlights into building offices.


Fire officials said the blaze was centered on the building’s 12th, 13th and 14th floors.

Zora Imamovich of Glendale, a foreman for a cleaning company, was on the 58th floor when she heard about the fire on her walkie-talkie.

“We started going down the stairs and smoke started going up,” she said. “So we turned and went up.”

On her walkie-talkie, she said she heard a group of people on an elevator who identified themselves as “Car 33,” screaming: “We are on fire! We are dying!”

Neither police nor fire officials could confirm whether anyone was trapped in elevators.

Tom Scalia, who was installing fire sprinklers on the fifth floor, said he “heard stuff falling nearby and went over to the room near the window.”

“Debris was falling out, and I pulled the fire alarm and ran for the stairway,” he said.

Joan Sampson of Los Angeles watched the flames from the street below, along with hundreds of others drawn from nearby restaurants and bars by the commotion.

“I’ve never seen so much flame and smoke outside a movie theater in my life,” she said.

One firefighter, who did not pause to give his name, said that melting electrical wiring, insulation and internal building supports were making it particularly difficult to battle the blaze.


“I hope none of my buddies get hurt because of that,” he said.

Manning called the blaze “the hottest fire I’ve seen in 15 years.”

He said the worst skyscraper fire before Wednesday’s was a spectacular blaze that destroyed the 20th floor of the 32-story Occidental Tower in 1976. That fire was deliberately and criminally set, according to arson investigators.