A structural fire that ravaged a major Los Angeles freeway was likely caused by arson, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) confirmed Monday.
Fire investigators “made a preliminary determination — there was malice intent,” Newsom said at a press conference Monday afternoon, broadcast from the incident site.
“This fire occurred within the fence line of the facility you see behind me,” the governor continued, stressing that “it was arson, and that it was done and set intentionally.”
“That determination of who is responsible is an investigation that is ongoing,” Newsom said, with construction vehicles beeping in the background.
The Los Angeles City Fire Department (LAFD) first began responding to the incident in question early Saturday morning, after receiving reports of a rubbish fire in a storage yard just south of downtown Los Angeles.
Firefighters said they extinguished most of the blaze within about three hours Saturday, but LAFD, LA County Health Hazmat and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) have been working to assess surrounding structural integrity since.
In the fire’s aftermath, Caltrans shut down an approximately one-mile, elevated stretch of Interstate 10 between the East LA Interchange and Alameda Street.
Officials said it was unclear how long this portion of the freeway, which was damaged by the fire, would need to be closed, and whether it would require a full demolition and overhaul.
This critical artery has an average daily traffic volume of 287,500 vehicles, according to an emergency proclamation issued by Newsom on Saturday.
The arson determination, issued by the fire marshal of Cal Fire, occurred 12 hours ahead of schedule — enabling the first responder agency to hand the investigation back over to Caltrans on Monday, the governor explained.
Preliminary samples indicate that the structural integrity of the bridge deck may be much stronger than originally assessed, Newsom announced at the press conference.
“That does not mean that we are moving forward without consideration of a [demolition] — quite the contrary,” he said. “We are assessing additional samples.”
More than 100 columns were damaged in total — and nine or 10 quite severely, the governor noted.
Additional analyses will help officials make a decision on whether to tear the structure down or replace the bracing, Newsom added.
The governor also stressed that he and his colleagues are looking into the corpus of the lessee of the site, Apex Development Inc.
The state signed an unlawful detainer with Apex in September and is heading to court in early 2024, Newsom said, noting that the company includes “bad actors.”
“They stopped paying their rent, they’re out of compliance,” he added. “They have been subleasing this site to at least five, maybe as many as six, tenants, without authorization.”
In the meantime, however, Newsom stressed that the 24-7 investigation and repair work will proceed rain or shine.
“We’ll continue to move as quickly as we can, safety first and timeliness second,” the governor added.