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California

Los Angeles sues Boyle Heights recycling center after 2-story-tall pile of trash burns for 6 weeks

Fire at Boyle Heights recycling center
Firefighters battle a smoldering blaze at a Boyle Heights recycling center in September.
(Los Angeles city attorney’s office)

The name of the business on Lugo Street in Boyle Heights is Clean Up America. But prosecutors say the massive mountain of debris on the site is anything but tidy.

When a fire ignited in a trash pile at the site this fall, officials alleged, the property had an estimated 22 million pounds of trash in a pile 25 feet high, 252 feet long and 250 feet wide. The fire took six weeks to fully extinguish.

The Los Angeles city attorney’s office filed a lawsuit this week accusing the Boyle Heights recycling center of being overrun with piles of trash two stories high and posing a health hazard to nearby businesses and the public.

Prosecutors are seeking to force Clean Up America to bring the property at 2900 E. Lugo St. into compliance, claiming the property owners have shown “blatant disregard” for environmental and city regulations.

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“The conditions at this facility pose a serious danger to this neighborhood and a health and safety risk to the food-processing facilities nearby,” City Atty. Mike Feuer said in a statement. “We will fight to protect the public and ensure important environmental, health and safety rules are followed.”

According to the suit, Clean Up America had permits allowing it to store 2.8 million pounds of trash in piles as high as 12 feet, as long as the material would be processed within 15 days.

But when a fire ignited in a trash pile at the site Sept. 18, the property had an estimated 22 million pounds of trash in a pile over twice as tall as was allowed, the city contends.

“Defendants’ mountain of trash left no room for the fire access lanes or property line setbacks on the parcel as required by law,” according to the suit. “As a result, initially, [the Los Angeles Fire Department] could not obtain direct access to the fire, and instead had to aim streams of water onto the pile from an adjacent property.”

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The smoke and water runoff from fighting the fire also posed health risks, the city says.

Clean Up America offered to help clean up the site but ultimately could not — its equipment was buried in the trash, the lawsuit states. It took a day to put out the fire and a month to fully extinguish the smoldering pile of trash, said Phillip Fligiel, the LAFD Central Bureau’s deputy chief of operations.

“Basically it was a mulch pile,” Fligiel said. “It’s very, very problematic because you can’t put it out unless you spread it out and hit it with water. It continued to smolder because it created its own heat.”

A team of four firefighters monitored the site 24 hours a day until Nov. 16, Fligiel said. While crews have been stationed in front of structure fires overnight before, a blaze requiring a month of attention was unusual, he said.

But despite the blaze and a subsequent order from the city to cease and desist all operations, Clean Up America was still receiving garbage as of last week, the city said. September’s fire followed more than a year of citations, reprimands and agreements among the city, state and the company to bring the property into compliance.

Wednesday’s filing seeks to have the company compensate the city for the cost of fighting the fire and force the property to come into compliance with state and city regulations. The city has amended its original complaint and is no longer seeking municipal acquisition of the property, officials said Thursday.

The company did not return a request for comment.

joseph.serna@latimes.com

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UPDATES:

Dec. 22, 12:05 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from the Los Angeles Fire Department and with amendments to the city’s lawsuit.

This article was originally published Dec. 21 at 7:05 p.m.


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