2 separate fires in LA damage housing complex for veterans, dry cleaner and historic theater

Raging flames and thick smoke reached into the morning sky across parts of Los Angeles Wednesday as firefighters battled two massive structure fires.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Raging flames and thick smoke reached into the morning sky across parts of Los Angeles Wednesday as firefighters battled two massive structure fires.

The first blaze erupted around 1 a.m. as about 150 firefighters responded to the area of Rowan Avenue and First Street where they encountered heavy flames coming from a five-story housing

complex under construction in East Los Angeles.
Video from the scene showed the entire the 62-unit complex.engulfed in flames, and some firefighters were forced to scramble to safety as the apartment building partially collapsed. The complex was slated to house veterans.

"I was asleep and I heard a bunch of paramedics coming down the street, cops, people talking, and I walk out and see a whole block full of people. Look around and see a whole building up in flames," said one witness.

The fire was largely extinguished by daybreak, but firefighters were still inspecting the scene after 9 a.m. to determine if there were any smoldering embers, and an official knockdown would not be declared until the inspection was completed, officials said.

The fire also damaged a historic pre-1933 theater building, and a single-story house. Firefighters and sheriff's deputies evacuated nearby residents, and no one was injured. The cause of the fire was under investigation.

A male teenager was detained for questioning as a "person of interest'' in connection with the fire investigation, according to the county fire department.

No injuries were reported.

AIR7 HD was over the scene of another fire shortly before 6 a.m. as firefighters were on the roof of a dry cleaner business and attempting to extinguish the intense flames.

The fire was reported in the 1700 block of West Florence Avenue, near Western Avenue, about 5:20 a.m., according to Nicholas Prange of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Firefighters encountered heavy fire through the roof of the building and quickly transitioned into a defensive mode, battling the flames from the exterior.

"We had over 100 firefighters on scene. Conditions quickly changed. For the safety of our members, we transitioned to a defensive attack. Pulled everybody off the roof and out of the building and continued the fire fight," said L.A City Fire Battalion Chief Brian Petty.

The fire was extinguished in an hour and 35 minutes, according to Prange.

"Firefighters initially made entry, but intense fire behavior drove them back out,'' Prange said. "Using ladder pipes and large hand lines from the exterior, firefighters extinguished the fire and successfully protected nearby structures.''

There were multiple apartment units on the top floor of the business, but fire officials say no injuries were reported.

"We sent the fire company inside to investigate and we determine though a binary and second search that the apartments were clear," Petty said.

Residents say the dry cleaner has been serving the community for decades.

The structure appears to be a total loss.

The cause of both fires remain under investigation.

City News Service contributed to this report.
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