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Major Structure Fire in Downtown Los Angeles

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On Monday, February 5, 2007 at 4:57 AM, thirty-nine Companies of Los Angeles Firefighters, six LAFD Rescue Ambulances, two Arson Units, two Urban Search and Rescue Units, one Hazardous Materials Squad, one Helicopter, one Rehab Air Tender, one Foam Tender, three EMS Battalion Captains, seven Battalion Chief Officer Command Teams and one Division Chief Officer Command Team, a total of 239 Los Angeles Fire Department personnel under the direction of Assistant Chief Roderick Garcia responded to a Major Emergency Structure Fire at 356 South Broadway in the Historic Downtown district of Los Angeles.

Responding to a report of smoke seen by a passing motorist, Firefighters arrived quickly to discover heavy smoke showing from the century-old O.T. Johnson Building, a Parkinson-designed former seven story brick office with basement, which had been reconfigured in decades past to a two-story structure with mezzanine, the top floor serving as heavy storage above more than a half-dozen first-floor merchants at the time of the fire.

With a large volume of thick-black smoke pumping from behind the modern facade of wooden shingles that covered the top floor windows of the historic structure, Firefighters made their way to the roof via aerial ladders to commence essential vertical ventilation.

Forcing entry from street level, teams of Firefighters fought their way with hoselines into the smoke charged structure to do battle with well entrenched flames deep within the unreinforced masonry structure. Their perseverant quest to gain access to a second floor inferno via the sole interior stairway proved unsuccessful, when they – along with firefighters on the roof, were formally ordered to a defensive posture 21 minutes into the fire.

The brisk transition to exterior attack came as elements of the structure began to fail, and Firefighters soon requested a boost in water pressure from the Department of Water and Power to battle heavy fire, making full use of the combination of 8″ and 12″ water mains serving the largely commercial district.

Eight ladder pipes and many heavy streams were ultimately brought to bear against flames that lit the pre-dawn sky.

As dawn approached, low-hanging smoke from the fire began activating smoke alarms in several nearby buildings, including those developed in recent years to loft-type housing.

With ground-level visibility waning, the California Highway Patrol was asked to close the 4th Street off-ramp of the Harbor Freeway, and City Department of Transportation and Caltrans officials soon commenced their respective roles of traffic control into and within the City’s burgeoning Downtown core.

Though the bulk of flames were knocked down within ninety minutes, it took nearly four hours to fully extinguish the stubborn and smoldering fire, which destroyed the building.

The flames were confined to the structure of origin and there were no injuries.

Fire loss is estimated at $4,000,000 ($3,000,000 structure & $1,000,000 contents). While fire origin was declared to be in or near a bridal shop, the specific cause of the blaze remains undetermined.

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