WILMINGTON—A stubborn wharf fire caused a brief evacuation of Los Angeles (CA) Port employees and closure of several shipping terminals on Monday evening. As the incident ensued, pervasive odor over a widespread area caused a brief impact on local schools, though no injuries were reported.
The Los Angeles (CA) Fire Department (LAFD) was called at 6:41 PM on September 22, 2014, to 802 S. Fries Ave. in Wilmington. Firefighters arrived quickly by air, land, and sea to find fire billowing from under a 150 foot wharf. LAFD fire boats mounted an aggressive fire attack as fire department divers entered the dark waters to assault the blaze from below the pier. Firefighters were met with many challenges including the highly flammable creosote-soaked timbers supporting the concrete wharf which were inaccessible from land.
Because of the incident’s scope, the LAFD established a unified command with Los Angeles Port Police, United Stated Coast Guard, and the Long Beach (CA) Fire Department. During the firefight two large cargo ships were moved to a safe location as a precaution. More than 170 firefighters under the command of Deputy Chief Mario Rueda contained the bulk of the fire in less than two hours, though the blaze continued to smolder—at times with heavy smoke, demanding the presence of scores of firefighters assigned on a rotational basis for more than 32 hours, until all active flame was extinguished early Wednesday morning. LAFD crews remained at the location until midafternoon, when Port of officials took control of the scene to guide cleanup and recovery operations.
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The fire burned under the Pasha Terminal’s steel warehouse at Berth 177, reportedly causing collapse of areas of the flooring and large coils of steel to fall to the water below. Strategic use of a backhoe to create a large trench in the wharf halted the fire’s progress, which was confined to the wharf and under the warehouse.
The smoke caused the overnight closure of several shipping terminals, leading to the evacuation of over 850 dock workers as a precaution. Harbor area residents were advised to avoid the smoke, close windows, and stay inside.
No injuries were reported.
Monetary loss of the heavily damaged wharf and adjacent warehouse is still being tabulated. The cause of the fire is considered accidental, attributed to a welder’s torch.
Story By LAFD PIO