A mile-long portion of a major Los Angeles traffic artery is closed “until further notice” after a raging fire prompted California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to declare a state of emergency this weekend.
While the exact source of the blaze is still unknown, the Los Angeles City Fire Department (LAFD) began responding to a reported rubbish fire early Saturday morning just south of downtown Los Angeles.
“This is one of these heaven-on-Earth moments,” Newsom said at a Sunday press conference. “This is a 24-7 operation, period, full-stop.”
The closure affects an elevated stretch of Interstate 10 between the East LA Interchange and Alameda Street, according to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). Officials encouraged commuters to work from home if possible or take public transit instead.
Upon arrival at the site Saturday morning, responders reported finding a storage yard that was “well involved in fire with buildings exposed.”
Firefighters said they extinguished most of the blaze about three hours into the incident, but LAFD, LA County Health Hazmat and Caltrans have been working to assess surrounding structural integrity since.
On Saturday evening, Newsom’s office announced he proclaimed a state of emergency in Los Angeles County, with a goal of bolstering the state’s response to the fire.
Through the proclamation, the state began facilitating clean-up and repair work, while directing Caltrans to formally request assistance through the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Program if necessary.
“It is essential to complete repairs as quickly as possible to support the safe reopening of the freeway,” the proclamation states, noting the artery has an average daily traffic volume of 287,500 vehicles.
The following day, Newsom and local officials surveyed the damage to the freeway and discussed how the state would help expedite the reopening of the I-10 corridor as quickly as possible.
“This is an investigation as to the cause of how this fire occurred,” Newsom said at the Sunday press conference, noting structural engineers and fire crews were working on clarifying the cause.
“The second question we all want to answer is when can we reopen this structure? And that question will be determined on the basis of safety,” he added.
Explaining that the primary focus of the investigation is the freeway’s bridge deck, the governor pointed to “dozens and dozens of columns” damaged.
“What appears on the outside to be problematic may not be the real problem — it’s what lies underneath,” he said, recognizing the serious nature of potentially hazardous debris removal.
Speaking at the same press conference, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass (D) said she had received a call Saturday night from Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who reassured her “that the White House stands with us as we work to rebuild.”
“They have committed to ensure us that there will be no obstacle that stands in our way,” she continued.
Buttigieg confirmed he has been in contact with Bass, Newsom and other officials “about the closures on I-10 in Los Angeles caused by fire damage and the impact it is having on traffic,” according to a Sunday night statement posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The secretary added that the federal highways administrator would be in Los Angeles on Monday and the Transportation Department “will help any way we can.”
Bass said city officials are adhering to a three-pronged strategy with respect to incident recovery: creating a plan for Angelenos who live or commute near the area, working to get the freeway up and running again and providing residents with as much information as possible.
While recognizing there were no injuries or deaths from the fire, Bass stressed the incident would take a substantial toll on the surrounding communities.
She and Newsom referenced the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, which likewise destroyed highway infrastructure in northwest Los Angeles.
The governor forecasted that the economic impacts of this weekend’s event would be greater because of the sheer number of people who travel along this corridor every day.
“It’s of significant consequence to the economy, to the health and safety of Angelinos, the impact to our schools, to vulnerable communities,” Newsom said.
“All of that, we take very seriously, and we’re sober and mindful of the urgency to get this open,” he added. “It’s safety first, it’s speed second.”