Arson Suspected In High-Rise Fire That Had Trapped Residents

LOS ANGELES, CA — Someone may have deliberately set a Wilshire Boulevard high-rise fire Wednesday that injured eight people and left residents clinging to the side of the building and trapped on the rooftop, according to Los Angeles Fire Department officials.

Residents trapped in the fire, which broke out in the 25-story high-rise building Wednesday morning, were poised to jump from the upper stories to escape the flames when firefighters arrived, according to the fire department. Firefighters on loudspeakers talked the residents out of jumping and used ladders and helicopters to pluck them from the rooftop and side of the building.

Two 30-year-old men in the apartment where the fire started were injured and both were hospitalized, one in grave condition and the other in critical condition, according to Capt. Erik Scott of the LAFD. The man in critical condition was rescued while clinging to the outside of the building by firefighters using a ladder. The apartment the men were in sustained “significant” damage, Scott said.

Overall, eight people were injured in the blaze, authorities said. Among the injured was a 3-month-old baby, according to a fire department spokesman.

Fire officials had initially reported that victims leaped from the upper stories, but crews were able to stop residents from jumping.

“We got on our public address system and let them know to stay there,” added Cmdr. Armando Hogan said. “… No one jumped.”

An air mattress was deployed at the base of the building as a precaution. Fire crews used a ladder to rescue the man clinging to the building. In this video as it appears on the Neighbors app, smoke and flames can be seen shooting into the air as crews attempt to rescue a man clinging to the side of the building. A rescue crew had erected a ladder to reach him.

Investigators believe the fire may have been deliberately set. The building did not have a sprinkler system, according to the fire department.

“It is suspicious right now,” said Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas.

“This was a very successful operation,” he added. “We used unconventional tactics.”

The rooftop helicopter rescue is exceedingly rare in firefighting he said.

“We have rarely done rooftop evacuations for medical purposes — rarely,” he said. “But I’ll tell you, we did it today. It’s a valuable resource for our helicopters to not only do rooftop evacuations, but we also use these same helicopters for brush fire water-dropping capability. So it worked very effectively. We trained on this many times over the course of the year.”

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“Our folks in some cases had to breach walls to get to the scene of the fire,” added Hogan. “Our priorities are medical and the complete evacuation of this building.”

The fire was reported just after 8:30 a.m. in the 11700 block of West Wilshire Boulevard. Firefighters arrived at the building, at Wilshire Boulevard and Barrington Avenue, to find units on the seventh floor fully engulfed in flames, with some residents poised to jump to escape and two seen clinging to the outside of the building several stories up.

About 300 Los Angeles firefighters were on the scene working to reach people trapped by the flames. They were able to “knock down” the blaze just before 10 a.m., officials said. As many as 10 units were engulfed in flames, according to authorities. The blaze was centered on the seventh floor.

Some residents ran out of the building, and others retreated to the roof of the structure in their bathrobes, where smoke poured out the doorway of one stairwell that opened onto the roof.

A total of 15 people were hoisted from the roof, LAFD officials said. A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department helicopter crew also assisted in the operation, according to the sheriff’s department.

Public Domain via Los Angeles Fire Department

One resident who lives in a unit several units above the floor where the fire broke out told KNX Newsradio that she heard people crying and calling for help and what sounded like an explosion. She said she jumped out of bed, quickly got dressed, grabbed several pet cats and made her way out of the building.

Traffic was routed away from the area, with heavy backups reported on Wilshire Boulevard and other streets in the area.

The building is one of several luxury high-rise apartments in the area. The fire is the second major blaze driven by high winds to engulf a building in Los Angeles Wednesday morning.

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