Deja Vu : Smoke From Motor Forces Evacuation of Damaged Skyscraper

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Times Staff Writer

About 400 workers cleaning up debris left by the disastrous blaze in the 62-story First Interstate Bank building were evacuated Monday afternoon after a small electrical motor began to smolder on the 22nd floor.

“This fire never really got going,” Assistant Fire Chief David Sloan said. “We had two people treated for exhaustion, but everyone else apparently was OK.”

Sloan said the evacuation was orderly, with most of the workers using the building’s stairways.


Office workers have not occupied the structure since the May 5 blaze that ravaged four floors of the tallest building in Los Angeles, killing one man, injuring 40 people and causing damage estimated in the tens of millions of dollars.

Darnell Sparks, 36, said he was one of several members of a cleanup crew working in a ventilation shaft on the 22nd floor of the building when he smelled and saw smoke. Sparks said he and other members of the team from Blackman Mooring Steamatic Catastrophes Inc. of Houston, warned a supervisor and an alarm was sounded at 2:32 p.m.

About 100 firefighters responded to the alarm, but Sloan said the overheated motor, which powers an air-conditioning system in an elevator room, had already begun to cool by the time they reached it.

Earnestine Turner, 26, and Valencia Pickens, 19, said they had been cleaning walls on the 62nd floor when they heard a loudspeaker warning their supervisor not to let anyone use the elevators.

Pickens, who is 2 1/2 months pregnant, was shaken after running down 62 flights of stairs. Officials helped her across the street to a bank lobby, where she was given oxygen.

Electrician Dan Pullen, who was working on the 46th floor when he heard the alarm, also had a long climb down.


“My knees were telling me I’m an old man,” he said.