There are still many questions left to be answered about the thoroughly destructive fire earlier this week at one of the buildings in developer Geoff Palmer's fauxtalian Da Vinci complex. How did the fire start? Was it arson? Was it a "a crime of aesthetic passion"? The Downtown News talked to Battalion Chief David Perez about what he knows—just how fast and huge the fire was, the reasons it burned so quickly, the effects of the intense heat generated (busted windows a block away!), and what it took to put it all out. Here's how you fight a massive urban fire:
· It went up FAST. Perez says a firefighter had driven by the site at 1:05 am that morning and hadn't seen anything burning, but he estimates about 80 percent of the construction site was on fire by the time firefighters arrived on the scene shortly after the call came in at about 1:20 am. (Fire Station #3 at First and Fremont Streets is less than half a mile away).
· It burned especially well because the wood framing of the building "is probably the most flammable configuration of fuel you can have ... it's like kindling."
· Still, the fire was out fairly quickly. An official release from the LAFD says that the fire was mostly out in about 90 minutes, with crews working and using bulldozers for an additional 24 hours to put down any flare-ups and to "fully extinguish the deep seeded smoldering lumber."
· Because the LAFD knew the area so well, they already knew their firefighting strategy: "We had driven around that building plenty of times before, and we knew that if that site ever caught fire, we were not going to be able to put people on Fremont Street. That would be the collapse zone, and the trees on both sides of Fremont create a tunnel, so we wouldn't be able to drive in and raise a ladder."
· There wasn't any special, high-tech firefighting equipment used to battle this blaze. The battalion chief explains, "This was absolute old-school firefighting. A huge lumber fire only responds to huge amounts of water."
· It's lucky that the fire happened at night on the under-construction building because if someone had been inside, "the probability of their survival would've been zero."
· The fire ignited a few floors of one of the towers in the Figueroa Plaza complex (the one at 221 Figueroa, which houses some departments of the LA Department of Building and Safety), ruptured windows at another (313 Figueroa, where the LA County Department of Health has offices), and reached as far as the LA Department of Water and Power building at 111 Hope Street, cracking 160 windows.
· "The damage to the DWP building was a surprise. I'm still not sure how the building sustained so much heat," says Perez.
· If this fire looked like a once-in-a-lifetime inferno, that's because it was. "It doesn't compare to anything I've ever seen in initial size and intensity. It's by far the biggest single fire in an urban area I've seen." (The chief did add, though, that he'd heard these construction site fires used to be a lot more common—before cell phones and improved alarms helped word spread more quickly about blazes, and before codes became stricter and better enforced.)
· How to Beat a Downtown Inferno [DN]
· Downtown's Giant Da Vinci Building Burned Because It Was Bad [Curbed LA]
· Terrible Fauxtalian Fortress Lost in Spectacular Downtown Fire [Curbed LA]