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LA Fire May Seek Help From Feds In Investigation Of Massive Fire That Injured 12 Firefighters

In this screen grab from video provided by Celia Esguerra of @RawMaterials, fire from an explosion is seen Saturday, May 16, 2020, in Los Angeles. (Celia Esguerra of @RawMaterials via AP)
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UPDATE Monday, May 18: ATF agents from the Los Angeles office have now been assigned to help in this investigation.

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The Los Angeles Fire Department said Sunday it may call on federal help for its probe into Saturday night's massive fire and explosion downtown that injured 12 firefighters, including two who remain in critical condition.

"This is certainly one of the most significant incidents that our department has gone to in recent history," Capt. Erik Scott, the department's spokesman, told LAist.

Scott said the department's Arson/Counter-Terrorism Section was working with the Los Angeles Police Department's Major Crimes division.

"There's discussion that we might even bring in (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) if needed," Scott said. He said investigators were spending Sunday combing through debris, looking at burn patterns, talking to witnesses, and examining surveillance footage.

An LAPD patrol car blocks the scene of a massive fire on May 16 in downtown L.A. (Josie Huang / LAist)

Asked whether the department suspected arson, Scott said "there's nothing to indicate a suspicious cause at this point, but that's all under active investigation."

Three firefighters have been discharged from Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center. Eight are still being treated, including two in critical, but stable, condition. A 12th firefighter was treated in the emergency room and released Saturday for a minor injury.

Firefighters responded to a call at Smoke Tokes Warehouse Distributor on Boyd Street near the intersection with San Pedro about 6:30 p.m. Saturday. After they entered the building, there was what a fire department spokesman called a "significant" explosion.

LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said the incident had shaken many in his department. Authorities said the injured firefighters were trying to reach the origin of the fire when the explosion took place.

"A lot of our firefighters were traumatized. I spoke to them directly, and they're holding up. But when one of your own is can imagine the amount of emotional stress."
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Terrazas, speaking at a news conference last night, said what he knew about the lead-up to the explosion was based on an account by a member of Station 9, whose firefighters were the first to respond.

"We'll have a more in-depth significant incident investigation team look at this incident to learn everything possible, so that we can learn from this event and share this information with all our firefighters within the LAFD as well as throughout the region," he said.

Los Angeles Fire Department firefighters work the scene of Saturday's structure fire (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Firefighters brought the fire Saturday night under control in about 90 minutes, with more than 230 personnel working the incident.

Scott said there were canisters of butane and CO2 inside Smoke Tokes Wholesale Distribution.

"Butane being highly flammable is what certainly added and fueled those flames to come out," Scott said. "The explosion has spread those canisters in at least a two block radius." He said preliminary information indicated that Smokes Tokes supplied butane honey oil and other materials for "cannabis-type operations."

He said investigators were looking into a September 2016 fire connected to Smoke Tokesat a "slightly different location." That fire, at 330 E. 3rd Street, took about 160 firefighters more than two hours to extinguish.

In that incident, according to the 2016 news release, firefighters "forced entry into Smoke Tokes," where they found "intense fire in dense and highly flammable storage that included pressurized flammable gas cylinders, several of which were heard to explode."

The 3rd St. address appears on a map to be a block behind the location of Saturday's fire.

On Saturday night, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti expressed the relief the city felt after learning that all the injured firefighters were expected to recover.

"We were all, I think, frightened when we heard the initial news and raced here as quickly as possible," he said at a late evening news conference. "We got a lot of firefighters that are shaken up. And we have, of course, social workers and our departmental mental health professionals to make sure everybody's okay."

Station 9, where the injured firefighters are based, serves the downtown area, including Skid Row. The station was profiled this year by our friends at KCET, with a behind-the-scenes look at the very busy firehouse:

Tammy Trujillo contributed to this report.