Update: Camera Catches Truck Blast that Injured Los Angeles Firefighters

Feb. 16, 2024
Firefighters were trying to quell a fire on a semi when a 100-gallon tank of compressed natural gas exploded.

Nathan Solis, Karen Garcia and Hannah Fry

Los Angeles Times


LOS ANGELES — Nine Los Angeles firefighters were injured, two critically, in an explosion early Thursday in Wilmington as they tried to extinguish a fire on a semi-truck with pressurized natural gas tanks, authorities said.

Ten firefighters responded to a vehicle fire shortly before 7 a.m. at 1120 N. Alameda St. in Wilmington, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The truck, which did not have a trailer used to transport cargo attached at the time of the explosion, was fueled by compressed natural gas. It had two 100 gallon tanks mounted on either side of the truck. Six minutes after crews arrived—as they attempted to extinguish the blaze—one of the tanks exploded, shooting flames 30 feet in the air, said LAFD Spokesman Captain Erik Scott.

The tanks are under 3300 pounds of pressure, Scott said. The blast created a massive fireball and sent up a plume of smoke into the neighborhood, according to video footage from the scene.

“This is a difficult day in Los Angeles,” Mayor Karen Bass said during a news conference at the hospital where the firefighters were being treated. “I’m here with a simple message to our firefighters in the building behind me and in fire stations across our city watching the news this morning unfold. The 4 million people of Los Angeles stand with you.”

Fire officials broadcast a frantic call for help over the radio shortly after the blast.

“I need you to dispatch the five closest fire resources and five paramedic rescues. We’ve had an explosion,” a man says on the broadcast. A different, more strained voice from the scene comes over the radio yelling “mayday mayday mayday.”

The man then gives a brief update on the condition of the most severely injured firefighters, noting that they are “both conscious and breathing right now.”

It is unclear what caused the initial truck fire. The driver was unharmed in the incident.

Nine people were taken to Harbor UCLA Medical Center. Two remain in critical condition and seven others are being treated for general injuries, according to the hospital.

One of the victims in critical condition was transferred to Los Angeles General Medical Center, which operates one of only 3 Burn Center units in Los Angeles, the hospital said.

Dr. Molly Deane, a trauma surgeon at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, said after the firefighters were stabilized she watched footage of the explosion. She said it was “remarkable that none of them were more severely injured.”

Video footage from the scene showed the destroyed truck with flames still burning and debris scattered across Alameda St. adjacent to railroad tracks.

A resident who lives in a nearby neighborhood said she was knocked back several feet by the force of the explosion from where she was standing outside her home. The woman, who did not want to give her name, said she was on the phone with a 911 operator a few hundred feet from the truck fire when she felt the blast.

“I came out here to see what it was, because I saw the black smoke and as I was calling the fire department the second explosion happened and knocked me from the tree right there to here,” she said.

She injured her knees when she fell, but she told paramedics she didn’t want to go to the hospital.

Neighbor Francisco Lopez, 82, said the blast shook his house on East Young Street, several hundred feet from the explosion. He said he leaned against his fence to try and see what happened.

The Port of Los Angeles Police were on scene to evacuate nearby homes with windows facing where the blast occurred.

Bernix Agular, 48, was making coffee when he felt as if he was being lifted into the air.

“I literally went up and came back down,” he said, jumping slowly to mimic the motion that jolted him after the explosion.

He quickly went around the house to check that his family and home were OK because it felt like the whole house had shaken. He found cracks on the exterior and interior walls and window sills.

Priscilla Tena, who has lived in the neighborhood adjacent to where the explosion occurred for 15 years, thought the blast was an earthquake. She was surprised by how loud it was and how powerful it felt.

“It’s scary and sad for the firefighters who do a lot for [our community]. We’ll be praying for them,” Tena said. “It’s scary because look where we live, like in the middle of a refinery-ville.”

LAFD Hazardous Materials Specialists are on scene conducting air monitoring. Air quality levels are currently within the normal range, Scott said.

One of the gas cylinders burned for several hours, officials said.

Firefighters have set up a 500-foot perimeter around the are where the blast occurred. While there are no formal evacuation orders in place, fire officials are encouraging residents to stay inside.

“I’m grateful for the brave first responders of our great fire department who arrived quickly to contain the situation, racing towards danger to protect our community,” said Los Angeles City Councilmember Tim McOsker. “It’s a reminder of how dangerous this job is and how selfless and courageous these first responders are.”


©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.