EAST LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A boy has been detained in connection with a large blaze which exploded at a housing project under construction for low-income veterans in East Los Angeles early Wednesday morning.
The greater-alarm fire broke out at a five-story building located at Rowan Avenue and 1st Street at around 1 a.m., the L.A. County Fire Department reports.
Footage from the scene captured scaffolding collapsing while firefighters fought the flames. No firefighters were injured.
“We have had some of that scaffolding collapse, luckily no one’s been injured in that,” said Inspector Sean Ferguson with the L.A. County Fire Department. “We’ve been fortunate, a lot of that scaffolding has collapsed inward onto the building itself.”
Jennifer Alvalez, who lives with her family in an apartment next door, said she was awoken by L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies banging on her door.
“Once they (firefighters) got here, it was a lot of flames, so it was hard to control,” said Alvalez, whose apartment escaped damage.
Sheriff’s arson investigators detained a male juvenile and consider him a person of interest, the fire department reported. A possible cause for the fire was not disclosed.
The neighborhood has a large homeless population and there were reports of trash can fires overnight prior to the large blaze, fire officials told CBSLA. Investigators are canvassing the area for surveillance video.
No one was inside the building at the time of the fire, Ferguson said.
The blaze also damaged the historic Unique Theater, which was built in the 1920s and was later refurbished as a dollar store with four apartments above it, the LACFD reported. A one-story house also sustained some damage.
Approximately 150 firefighters battled the fire, the bulk of which was knocked down by 7:30 a.m., but firefighters were still putting out hot spots around the building for several hours later.
“Unlike other fires where we can get up close and get a hose line right to it, this is a little bit trickier here, just due to the fact that it’s under construction, it’s unsafe to get our members up in there,” Ferguson said.
The building was supposed to house low-income veterans, the construction superintendent told CBSLA. The building had been under construction for about 18 months and was only another three months from being done.
When complete, the complex would have had 61 units. It was a joint project between two nonprofit organizations: the East L.A. Community Corporation and New Directions for Veterans. Those involved in the project were too upset to talk on camera.
This is the second large fire to break out Wednesday morning. A blaze also tore through the roof of a commercial building housing a dry cleaner in South L.A.