The blast occurred on Saturday, May 16, 2020 at about 6:30 p.m. local time.
At first, the LA Fire Department received a call about a fire in a building near Little Tokyo and Skid Row in downtown LA.
The building was a warehouse that probably stored butane, an organic compound that is highly flammable.
Firefighters rushed at the scene and witnessed some smoke coming from the structure. Unfortunately, the building was locked at the time so the crew utilized power saws to enter inside. Some of the staff climbed the structure to ventilate the roof and alleviate the situation.
Suddenly, fire crews heard a piercing noise and called every member of the group to get out of the building until they evaluate the conditions. However, moments later, an explosion occurred in the structure while some firefighters were still inside. “It was routine until they heard a rumbling, high-pitched sound —they described it like a jet engine spinning up — along with pressurized smoke," Erik Scott, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, stated.
Some of them had to go through a wall of fire estimated to be about 10 meters wide and high while those on the roof had to climb down from a burning ladder.
12 firefighters suffered burns and were hospitalized. 3 are in critical condition but they are probably out of danger. Some of the helmets that they were equipped with, were reported to have melted. The blast was so powerful that a plume of smoke rose from the building while a fire truck was completely blackened. According to reports, it was followed by a series of smaller explosions.
More fire crews including trucks and rescue vehicles were summoned at the site to control the fire caused by the explosion that had affected multiple buildings at that time. The team managed to put out the fire within the next hour.
A collaboration of LA fire investigators, LA police department and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are working on the case as an official criminal investigation is underway. The cause of the fire and of the subsequent explosion have not been identified yet. “We are in the early stages of an investigation. We are looking at every aspect at this stage. We haven’t determined a cause. The explosion was massive and those firefighters are very lucky to be alive. Skill and awareness is the reason they were able to get out from an incredibly dangerous situation,” Chief Horace Frank, LAPD Assistant, stated.
Click the video below to watch the moment of the explosion that was caught on camera. The footage is stunning yet terrifying.