State, city scramble after fire damages a key Los Angeles freeway

BY SourceMedia | MUNICIPAL | 11/13/23 03:03 PM EST By Keeley Webster

A massive fire in downtown Los Angeles damaged a section of Interstate 10, halting traffic on one of Southern California's key arteries.

Crews responding to the blaze Saturday found a large, 200-by-200-foot storage yard with pallets, trailers and vehicles engulfed in fire, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Wind pushed the heat and flames under the freeway and across the street, igniting a second storage yard, the fire department said.

The elevated freeway still stands, but fire damage renders it too risky to carry traffic.

"I want everyone to understand that we were acting urgently and we will not stop," Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass during a Monday morning update at the city's traffic control center. "Losing this stretch of the 10 freeway will take time and money from people's lives and businesses. It's disrupting in every way."

The impact has been compared to that wrought by the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which collapsed portions of I-10 through the city.

It's also reminiscent of a tanker truck fire that destroyed a bridge on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia in June. That road reopened within two weeks on a temporary span, with a permanent replacement bridge opened earlier this month.

Roughly 300,000 vehicles used the closed Los Angeles freeway segment.

"This will not be resolved in one or two days," Bass said.

City engineers worked through the night, and are continuing work to determine the best way to repair the damage, Bass said.

"I am in touch with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Gov. Newsom and our state partners to ensure that there are no barriers to getting this portion of the 10 Freeway up and running as fast as possible," Bass said.

"This challenge on the I-10 is the No. 1 priority for the governor," California Transportation Secretary Toks Omishakin said during the Monday update. "He has asked that all state agencies work 24-7. It's an all-hands approach."

The state has secured a $3 million contract with an engineering firm to assess the damage and remove debris, Omishakin said. Once the engineering firm has determined it's safe to move ahead, it will conduct sound checks on the structural soundness of the underdeck and the support columns, he said.

During the press conference, Bass, Omishakin and other city officials outlined alternative routes, urged companies to allow workers to telecommute and asked that people use city buses and light rail to access downtown to alleviate traffic logjams on alternative routes. In addition to being a major connector to downtown Los Angeles, the damaged segment of I-10 is near railyards that trucking companies use to transport goods from the Los Angeles and Long beach ports to the rest of the country.

Bass also said she has made it clear to local, state and federal partners that she won't tolerate delays or unnecessary bureaucracy.

After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Bass said, Caltrans worked around the clock to complete emergency repairs to the freeways, and this structural damage calls for the same level of urgency and effort.

Caltrans structural engineers will investigate the structure, assess damage, and develop a repair plan to ensure I-10 is able to safely re-open as quickly as possible, according to the mayor, who was joined by Omishakin and other state and local officials for Monday's update.

Newsom, who visited the scene Sunday, declared a state of emergency Saturday night.

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