A massive fire at a construction site in downtown Los Angeles closed down portions of the 110 and 101 freeways early Monday, and plumes of smoke could be seen for miles.
Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman David Ortiz said more than 250 firefighters battled the blaze in the 900 block of Fremont Avenue (map). Crews stood on the 110 Freeway to douse the flames, which also caused significant damage to two other buildings.
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Reported at 1:20 a.m., the major emergency fire, with over 16 fire companies responding, was about 98 percent contained by about 8 a.m., fire officials said.
The Southbound 101 and 110 freeways were reopened just before 5 a.m. Northbound lanes of the 110 were expected to remain closed through the morning rush hour.
"This is a historic fire, what we as firefighters would call 'a career fire,'" Ortiz told NBC News. "It's huge. I really can't remember a building fire this big and I have been with the department for 13 years."
Deputy Chief Joe Castro concurred.
"It’s been a long time since we’ve had an under-construction fire this significant," he said.
Castro said a building at 221 Figueroa Street that houses government offices was badly damaged, and the building would remain off-limits Monday.
"Basically all of the windows from the second to the 15th floor were broken out due to the radiant heat," he said. "We had fire in several of the units that was held in check by both the sprinklers and the firefighters we deployed into that unit to stop the extension."
The fire burned wood framing at the planned seven-story apartment complex, and Castro said the fire originated in that building.
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The heavy smoke prompted the California Highway Patrol to issue a SigAlert shutting down the transition from the northbound Harbor (110) Freeway to the northbound Hollywood (101) Freeway and the southbound Hollywood Freeway at Alvarado Street and Union Avenue.
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The cause and extent of the fire are not yet known. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Glass and debris was falling to the ground and a water sprinkler system had been activated at the city building by the time firefighters arrived. Castro said debris could be found about 1000 feet in any direction of the fire.
A second fire erupted near 4 a.m. a few miles away at a two-story apartment complex that is under renovation. Initial reports questioned whether the two fires were linked.
"Our initial concern, obviously, was that we may have had some arsonist working some typical under-construction buildings in the area. That doesn’t appear to be the case right now," Castro said.
Arson investigators are sifting through both scenes.