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Explosive titanium fire injures firefighters

July 14, 2010 12:26:21 AM PDT
Three firefighters were injured at a massive building fire that set off several explosions and hurled burning debris into a South Los Angeles neighborhood on Wednesday.

The fire broke out at United Alloys and Metals, a titanium storage and recycling facility, on the 700 block of East Slauson Avenue, at about 11:45 p.m. Tuesday. At one point, the entire building was engulfed in flames, and there were more than 200 firefighters battling the blaze.

Because of the volatile chemicals and material inside the building, firefighters had a difficult time getting control of the fire. There were a number of violent explosions that were caught on tape.

"Loud explosion. Very scary, but very lucky -- knock on wood here today -- that we didn't see more injuries," said L.A. City Fire Deputy Chief Mario Rueda. "This was a devastating explosion."

Firefighters initially put water on the fire, but it had a bad reaction, setting off the explosions and causing the flames to flare up. Titanium does not react well to water.

"We held off on water for several hours until the fire looked to be more manageable," said Rueda.

Two firefighters suffered burn injuries, and another firefighter suffered a concussion-type injury to his ear from one of the explosions. All three firefighters were taken to local hospitals and are expected to survive.

There were large pieces of flaming debris, including chunks of titanium, flying through the air. Firefighters said it was landing in the surrounding neighborhood. At one point, firefighters said it was raining flaming debris. The burning debris also damaged a number of fire engines.

After the explosion, the fire continued to burn into the morning.

United Alloys and at least four other businesses were destroyed.

"First and foremost, we heard there were a couple firefighters injured, and from what we've heard, they're relatively minor, they'll be OK," said United Alloys operator John Churley. "Obviously we're relieved to hear that. From initial feedback I've been getting from the fire department -- it's too early to say it's official by any means, the investigation's still ongoing -- but it seems that the fire did not start on the portion of the building that we operate in."

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Last month, another Churley-operated business went up in flames because of an accidental fire. It also stored titanium scraps that United Alloys and Metals sells to manufacturers.


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