Port of L.A. fire spews toxic fumes, prompting air-quality concerns

A plume rises from a stubborn fire at the Port of Los Angeles that continues to burn World War II-era lumber pylons soaked in creosote, prompting air quality concerns Tuesday.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A plume of toxic fumes from a stubborn fire at the Port of Los Angeles that continued to burn World War II-era lumber pylons soaked in creosote prompted air quality concerns Tuesday as firefighters attacked the blaze from above and below the water.

The fumes, which led to a shelter-in-place advisory overnight for nearby residents, have not been measured at a hazardous level beyond the immediate vicinity of the fire, officials said. But the potential for wind shifts prompted Los Angeles fire officials to recommend closures for two nearby campuses -- St. Peter-St. Paul and De La Torre Jr. elementary schools, both in Wilmington.

St. Peter-St. Paul Elementary confirmed it was closing for the day, but Los Angeles School Police Sgt. Edward Bernal said De La Torre Jr. would remain open after his department determined poor air quality would not affect the area.


No injuries have been reported as a result of the fire, which authorities said was sparked by a torch-welding operation.

The blaze has been contained to a 50-foot-by-800-foot area, but the firefight was expected to last for at least an additional 12 hours as crews struggle to reach flames within multiple layers of heavy timber soaked in dark, tar-like liquid creosote.

The Los Angeles and Long Beach fire department had deployed fire boats, scuba divers and ground crews to attack the blaze.

“This is a very, very difficult fire to fight,” said Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas.

Residents near the port should continue to keep their doors and windows shut as a precaution, he added.

Employees at the TraPac, Yang Ming, China Shipping, Pasha, NYK, APL and Evergreen terminals were told to check with their employers before heading into work, due to constrained access.


The flames broke out about 6:40 p.m. Monday in the 800 block of South Fries Avenue beneath a steel warehouse, threatening nearby cargo ships.

As firefighters on land used bulldozers and jackhammers to create trenches to control the massive blaze at berths 177 and 178, LAFD divers jumped into the water and used hose lines to fight flames.

About 850 terminal employees were evacuated Monday night as a precaution.

Los Angeles Fire Capt. Jaime Moore described the fire as “very, very stubborn and low-burning.”

Authorities also are working to determine how they will handle a Crown Princess cruise ship, which is set to unload passengers at the port Tuesday morning.

The warehouse did not appear to catch fire, Fire Department spokeswoman Katherine Main said, but the dock beneath it was burned. Four employees were evacuated and large cargo ships were asked to move away from nearby berths, she said.

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