Firefighters were inside a burning downtown Los Angeles business Saturday evening when there was a huge explosion. The blast injured 12 first responders and spurred an investigation into its cause, fire officials said.The explosion damaged several storefronts, melted fire helmets and left one fire truck burned and covered in debris. Officials said firefighters had to pass through the fireball to escape.�Firefighters were coming out with obvious damage and burns,� said Erik Scott, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department.
A fire in downtown L.A. is seen from above.(KTLA)
They ran �straight through that ball of flame to get to safety across the street,� Scott said. An initial investigation of the scene identified the business as Smoke Tokes, a warehouse distributor with supplies for butane hash oil, he said. The cause of the fire has not been determined.Authorities said carbon dioxide and butane canisters were found inside the building. The owner of Smoke Tokes could not be reached for comment.
Eleven firefighters received treatment for burn injuries at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, according to the LAFD. A 12th firefighter was treated and released at the emergency room Saturday night for �a minor extremity injury,� said Nicholas Prange, an LAFD spokesman.As of Sunday morning, three firefighters had been discharged from the hospital. Eight remained hospitalized in critical but stable condition. All were expected to survive, officials said. Doctors at USC said one of the firefighters would likely need skin grafts.Firefighters first received a call about 6:30 p.m. Saturday about a structure fire in the 300 block of Boyd Street south of Little Tokyo.
While firefighters were inside attempting to find the source of the blaze, there was �a significant explosion, very high, very wide, rumbling the entire area,� Scott said. Some other firefighters were on the roof of the building when the blast occurred.The fire was put out an hour and 42 minutes after the call came in, authorities said. Video at the scene captured a series of smaller explosions after the initial blast. LAFD Chief Ralph M. Terrazas said the firefighters responding to the call sensed something was wrong inside the building but could not escape before the explosion.Initially, officials could not account for all the firefighters.
In an LAFD radio transmission, an official is heard screaming, �Mayday! Explosion! I have two down firefighters.�
While firefighters were in the downtown Los Angeles building trying to find the source of the blaze, there was a big explosion. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
�When one of your own is injured ... you can imagine the amount of mental stress,� Terrazas said. �A lot of our firefighters were traumatized.�The fire broke out in an older business district off East 3rd Street known for its various smoke shops. Authorities referred to it as Bong Row.
Along with LAFD arson investigators, the explosion is being investigated by the criminal conspiracy section of the Los Angeles Police Department�s major crimes division and the gang and narcotics division, said LAPD Asst. Chief Horrace Frank. �The explosion was massive, and those firefighters are very lucky to be alive,� Frank said. �Skill and awareness is the reason they were able to get out from an incredibly dangerous situation.�The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives� national response team will arrive Monday to assist in the investigation, federal officials said Sunday.The team brings together science and fire experts who can reconstruct scenes in detail. It assisted most recently in California on the Conception boat fire, which killed 34 people in the vessel off Santa Barbara in September. The team also assisted in the investigation of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire, which killed 36 people in December 2016.
In 2016, there was another major fire at a downtown L.A. business called Smoke Tokes at an address nearby on 3rd Street. It took more than 160 firefighters about two hours to put out that blaze, with the flames largely confined to the wholesaler and distributor of smoking paraphernalia, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time. Firefighters encountered pressurized gas cylinders that exploded amid the inferno, fire officials said. �It was a tricky fire for us,� LAFD Battalion Chief Mark Curry said at the time. �We had multiple explosions going off inside the fire while it was burning due to the butane containers releasing.�There were no injuries in the 2016 fire. The LAFD later said in a statement that firefighters who entered the building found �intense fire in dense and highly flammable storage that included pressurized flammable gas cylinders, several of which were heard to explode.�
It was unclear whether that business and the one that burned Saturday were connected.Jeralyn Cleveland was celebrating a family birthday party Saturday on the roof of the 13-story apartment building she manages three blocks away when she saw the explosion.�Everyone in my building thought there was a bomb that went off,� said Cleveland, 37. �It was like a mushroom.�Cleveland said there were small fires all the time in the neighborhood, which borders skid row, but she had never seen anything like this before.