Downtown LA fire: Federal agents join arson investigation

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Federal investigators arrived in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday to help determine the cause of a massive fire that broke out at an apartment complex under construction.

Authorities said about 20 National Response Team members from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) flew in from across the country to help determine if the blaze was intentionally set. The investigation team also includes an additional 25 ATF special agents from the Los Angeles Field Division, ATF Agent Carlos Canino said.

"We beefed up the team a little bit as a result of the magnitude and size of the scene," Canino said.

Fire officials said they are not treating this as a criminal investigation, but they have not ruled anything out.

"We will examine every angle and track down every lead," said LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas.

The fire erupted around 1:20 a.m. Monday at the Da Vinci complex on the 900 block of West Temple Street, destroying most of the 1.3-million-square-foot building. The flames damaged at least two adjacent city-owned buildings and shut down the busy 110 and 101 freeways.

Firefighters who were stationed across the street say the flames spread quickly on every floor, which makes investigators suspicious.

"Upon leaving their quarters, this structure was heavily involved in fire, that's unusual, to have that much fire all at the same time so that is probably a significant factor that we'll have to look at," Terrazas said.

The blaze was still smoldering early Wednesday morning. At its peak, 250 firefighters were on scene. There were no reports of injuries.

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Officials said the investigation could take weeks or months to complete.

"When you look at all seven stories, it totals up to 1.3 million square feet that we have to canvas to determine where the fire originated and what was the cause," said Los Angeles Fire Department Captain Jaime Moore.

According to the fire department, part of the block-long apartment complex construction site will be salvageable.

"The concrete, which was very resistant to the fire, still remains mostly unaffected by the fire, but the five stories above it obviously a total loss," Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman David Ortiz said.

The Da Vinci apartment building had been under construction for several months. There was about $10 million in damage related to the apartment building alone, according to a preliminary estimate on Monday. The fire also caused an additional $1.5 million damage to the 110 Freeway.

As crews were fighting the fire in downtown, another blaze erupted about eight blocks away at a commercial building in Westlake District.

Officials say there's no information at this time to indicate that the two fires are related, but they say it is "ironic."

"Within hours of this fire, we had another fire, so our arson investigators are on the alert. They're taking that into consideration," Moore said.

The City of Los Angeles Department of Aging lost 2,000 gift bags for seniors. Their office was located on the third floor of the building that was damaged.

"We're a little heartbroken, but we're sort of getting ourselves back with the sunlight, and I'm sure that with the generosity of city employees and others in the community we'll be able to put the bags back," said department general manager Laura Trejo.

Trejo has set up a fund to accept cash donations. For more information, visit http://aging.lacity.org and http://www.dreamcenter.org/seniors. You can also donate at http://mayorsfundla.org/DONATE/.

The LAFD is asking anyone who may have witnessed anything suspicious prior to the fire Monday or may have information that they feel is relevant regarding the investigation to call a special tip line. Tips can be made at (213) 893-9850.


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