Terror, panic as explosion rocks L.A. block: ‘Everybody was screaming, going crazy’

A car was flipped on its side by the force of a fireworks explosion on 27th Street in South Los Angeles.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Share via

Police were evacuating residents from a South Los Angeles neighborhood on Wednesday evening after seizing a large cache of homemade fireworks and illegal commercial fireworks when Crescensio Peña started filming.

Peña, 44, was tending to customers on 27th and San Pedro streets at his Chenchos Tacos truck when he went live on his Instagram account — just as a huge blast rocked the area.

“People screamed and began running away whichever direction they could,” he said.

Explosion damages homes and injures 17 people as a bomb squad tries to safely detonate homemade fireworks seized from a home.

July 1, 2021

Peña said the explosion, which occurred when police attempted to detonate the homemade fireworks, shook cars and shattered the windows of nearby businesses, including those of the liquor store behind which he’d been serving food.


Hours later, his ears were still ringing.

A fireworks explosion in South Los Angeles on Wednesday damaged buildings and injured 17 people, including police officers.

Los Angeles police were called to a home in the 700 block of East 27th Street about fireworks being stored. They found several thousand pounds of illegal commercial fireworks stacked 8 to 10 feet high in boxes.

Officers also found homemade fireworks — “more unstable” improvised explosive devices with simple fuses (about 40 the size of Coke cans and 200 smaller objects of similar construction) and conducted X-rays to determine their contents.

An LAPD bomb squad transferred the improvised devices into the iron chamber of a semitruck that’s meant to contain such explosive material, Police Chief Michel Moore said.

Police detonated the devices at 7:37 p.m., believing that the vehicle would be able to contain the explosion, but there was a “total catastrophic failure of that containment vehicle,” Moore said.

The windows of a laundromat at San Pedro and 27th streets were blown out by the force of Wednesday's fireworks explosion.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Residents and others were reeling from the massive explosion, which damaged homes and injured 17 people, including police officers.

The injured identified by officials ranged in age from 42 to 85. Officials said that nine Los Angeles Police Department officers and an officer from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were treated for minor injuries and were in fair condition. Six civilians also were taken to a hospital, three with serious injuries and three with minor injuries. One civilian was assessed for injuries but not transported.

Authorities were in the process of seizing more than 5,000 pounds of illegal fireworks at the time of the explosion in South Los Angeles.

July 1, 2021

Maria Velasquez, 39, said that she was having dinner with her family when police knocked on the door of their home and asked them to evacuate. They didn’t say why.

Velasquez and her family went to attend a funeral viewing. While they were there, she began receiving messages from neighbors asking whether she was OK. One neighbor said there had been a car bomb near her house.

An investigation of the fireworks explosion is underway.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The streets were blocked off when Velasquez returned home, and she and her father, Hilario, waited outside a laundromat. They said they had heard that at least four neighbors from the same household had been injured in the blast — two suffering cuts from broken glass.


The gate to their house appeared to have been blown off. The windows of Hilario’s truck were shattered.

Velasquez said she was mostly worried about her dog, Camela, who was still at home.

“I never liked fireworks,” she said. “If something has happened to my dog, more so now.”

Paul Sanchez, a KTLA-TV Channel 5 photojournalist, said he was filming the containment unit from about 50 feet away when it exploded.

“It didn’t knock me to the ground, but it was almost like someone had thrown a football-style block,” he told The Times.

An aerial image shows the remains of the armored LAPD semitruck after Wednesday's fireworks explosion.
(KTLA-TV Channel 5)

Sanchez’s ears immediately started ringing, but his adrenaline kicked in and he kept working — shooting the aftermath of the explosion.

About 30 minutes later, though, his hearing “wasn’t coming back, which sent me into a panic.”


“My reporter was talking to me and it just sounded like he was one of the parents from the ‘Peanuts’ cartoons, combined with a ringing in my ears,” he said.

Sanchez went to the hospital, where he was placed in a quiet room, he said. After about an hour, his hearing began to return and a headache he’d developed went away.

Mike Feuer said he was focusing on shutting off the supply chain.

June 22, 2021

“I was asleep when I felt like the whole bed was shaking. It felt like a really hard earthquake,” 14-year-old Maricela Cortes told KABC-TV Channel 7. “Everybody started running, and I couldn’t find my mom. ... Everybody was screaming, going crazy.”

It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion.

“Clearly protocols were followed and pursued, but something happened in that containment vehicle that should have not happened and we don’t know why,” Chief Moore said. “We intend to find out why.”