Eight firefighters remained hospitalized Sunday after being hurt in an explosion at a hash oil manufacturer in downtown Los Angeles that sent crews running for their lives when a ball of flames shot out of the building and scorched a fire truck across the street.
The blast Saturday evening injured a dozen firefighters including some who ran out onto sidewalks, where they tore off their burning protective equipment including melted helmets, officials said.
“The was one of the worst scenes I’ve seen,” said Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Erik Scott.
He said “one significant explosion” shook the neighbourhood around 6:30 p.m. Firefighters inside had to run through a wall of flames he estimated as 30 feet (9 metres) high and wide, and those on the roof scrambled down a ladder that was engulfed in fire.
Three firefighters were released after spending the night in the hospital, fire department spokesman Nicholas Prange said Sunday. Of the eight that remained hospitalized, two were in critical but stable condition, he said. Officials initially announced that 11 firefighters were injured but Prange said a 12th was treated and released for a minor injury.
All were expected to survive.
“The good news is everybody’s going to make it,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said at a late Saturday news conference outside the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center where all the injured were treated.
“Things could have been so much worse,” said Los Angeles Fire Department Medical Director Dr. Marc Eckstein, who works at the hospital and helped treat the injured.
Scott said people at the scene described the explosion as sounding like a freight train or jet engine.
Firefighters were called to 327 East Boyd St. in the city’s Toy District for a report of a fire at a one-story commercial building. There was light to moderate smoke when firefighters entered the building and went on the roof — normal procedures to try to quickly knock down any flames.
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Firefighters respond to an explosion in downtown Los Angeles that has injured multiple firefighters and caused a fire that spread to several buildings, Saturday, May 16, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)
Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said one of the firefighters inside the building thought things didn’t seem right — the pressure from the smoke and heat coming from the rear of the building were increasing. He directed everyone to get out, and they quickly started exiting the building as it was rocked by the explosion.
Firefighters on the roof scrambled down ladders with their protective coats on fire. The wall of flames shot out the building and burned seats inside a fire truck across the street.
More than 200 firefighters rushed to the scene, and dozens of engines, trucks and rescue vehicles clogged the streets. The fire spread to several nearby buildings, but firefighters were able to douse it in about an hour.
The injured firefighters were rushed to the hospital. Those who remained at the scene, unaware of the seriousness of their colleagues’ injuries, were traumatized by what had transpired, Terrazas said.
“You can imagine the amount of emotional stress,” he said.
Scott said the building was a warehouse for SmokeTokes, which he described as a maker of “butane honey oil.” Butane is an odourless gas that easily ignites, and it’s used in the process to extract the high-inducing chemical THC from cannabis to create a highly potent concentrate also known as hash oil. The oil is used in vape pens, edibles, waxes and other products.
On its website, SmokeTokes advertises a variety of products including “puff bars,” pipes, “dab” tools, vaporizers, “torches and butane,” and cartridges.
The company says it is “an international distributor and wholesaler of smoking and vaping products, and related accessories.” Founded in 2009, it offers “discounts to loyal customers, fast shipping, a huge catalogue of products and customer service that is untouched.”
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Associated Press writer Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.