The massive fire that forced the indefinite closure of parts of Interstate 10, a major thoroughfare in Los Angeles, was set on purpose, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday.
A preliminary investigation found there was “malicious intent,” Newsom said at a news conference, adding that it was “done and set on purpose.”
An investigation is still ongoing, and the governor did not say if there were any suspects or leads to who may have set the fire.
Mayor Karen Bass described the closing of the interstate as a “crisis” for a city already notorious for its traffic problems. She urged travelers to prepare for delays and plan alternate routes while the freeway remains closed in both directions near Alameda Street in the city’s busy downtown.
Ahead of the Monday morning commute, an alert was sent to residents’ cellphones warning that the highway “will be closed indefinitely” and to “expect significant traffic.”
The closure has “taken about 10 minutes off my day, and then it’s just more anxiety and stress than the normal morning,” commuter Diana Enriquez told CNN affiliate KABC.
Another commuter, Tony Behrstock, described the impact of the closure as “horrendous”.
“I’m miserable,” he told KABC.
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More than 300,000 people travel through the freeway corridor each day, said state Transportation Secretary Toks Omishakin, nearly as many as the population of Pittsburgh.
“It’s of significant importance to the economy, to the health and safety of Angelenos,” Newsom said. “The impact on our schools, on vulnerable communities – we take all of that very seriously, and we are sober and aware of the urgency of getting this out in the open.”
The city is struggling to assess the safety of the roadway and repair the damage caused by a violent fire at a storage facility early Saturday that spread under the freeway to ignite another storage facility, ultimately engulfing about 80,000 square feet and destroying several vehicles, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
There is no estimated timeline for reopening the stretch of interstate, but Bass warned Sunday that the problem “isn’t going to be solved in a day or two.”
Jae C. Hong/AP
Interstate 10 remains empty due to a closure in the wake of the fire Monday.
The state Department of Transportation encouraged commuters to work from home or take public transportation if possible.
Nearby school bus routes are also likely to change, although public schools remain open, LA Unified School District announced.
Port of Los Angeles warned travelers to prepare for heavy traffic Monday morning, with flag updates and alternative routes.
Newsom has declared a state of emergency for Los Angeles County due to the closure and said the state would assess the damage and begin making repairs as soon as the site could be accessed.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement he was in contact with California officials and added that the federal highway administrator is expected in Los Angeles on Monday.
The cause of the massive blaze remains unclear, although the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has completed its part of the investigation and is now beginning work to determine the safety of a bridge that burned in the fire, officials said during a news conference Monday .
“Right now, we don’t believe it’s going to collapse,” John Yang, deputy district director for construction for the California Department of Transportation, said of the damaged section of highway Monday.
The structural assessment of I-10 is ongoing, but “the structural integrity of the deck appears to be much stronger than originally assessed,” California Gov. Newsom said during a news conference Monday, citing preliminary tests.
Additional structural testing “should be back first thing tomorrow morning,” and officials will then decide whether to replace the entire structure or continue to retrofit and brace the highway, Newsom said.
A line of about 100 columns on the bridge that were damaged during the fire are being inspected as part of the process, Transportation Department Director Tony Tavares said during the news conference.
The bridge is five lanes in each direction, and the affected area is about 450 feet long, Yang explained.
“This is a wide bridge, very wide bridge,” Yang said.
Photos of the aftermath provided by the state show black spots left by the blaze and patches of concrete missing from columns, revealing pieces of metal and the inner parts of the support columns.
Caltrans District 7/AP
A Los Angeles firefighter uses a robotic hose to extinguish a fire under Interstate 10 that severely damaged an overpass in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday.
Hazmat crews will work around the clock to clean up the damage on Interstate 10, according to Newsom, who said the extent of the fire’s damage is “significantly greater” than the collapse of a section of Interstate 95 in Philadelphia in June.
“You name it, we saw it hidden in this place,” said Newsom, who visited the site Sunday. Wooden pallets, gas-filled cars and crates of oranges have all been found under the Los Angeles Bridge, officials said.
Crews are working to take core samples from the foundation of the highway all the way up to the bridge deck.
“We have no concern for the workers’ safety when we work below,” Yang added.
Concrete and rebar samples have been taken from the underside of the highway and are being analyzed to determine a repair strategy, California Transportation Secretary Toks Omishakin said.
Firefighters responded to reports of a fire around 12:30 a.m. Saturday at a 200-by-200-foot warehouse “with pallets, trailers and vehicles that were well involved in fire” and buildings that were exposed, according to the fire department.
“The wind pushed the heat and flames under the freeway and across the street a secondary storage yard ignited,” Fire Chief Kristin Crowley said Sunday.
Jae C. Hong/AP
The scene of a fire is shown under Interstate 10, in an aerial view, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, in Los Angeles.
The majority of the fire had been extinguished within three hours, and firefighters were able to save three nearby commercial buildings, Crowley said. More than 160 firefighters responded to the incident, she added.
No injuries have been reported as a result of the fire, according to the fire chief.
When reporters asked why the combustible material was allowed to be stored under the bridge, the governor said, “It’s all being assessed.”
Newsom said the tenant of the location is in violation of their lease. “We’re in a lawsuit, their lease is up, and we’ve been aggressive about concerns as it relates to the lease itself,” he said.
Officials believe the tenant “subleased the space … with multiple subleases, that’s part of the lawsuit,” Newsom said.