As flames flared early Monday in North Hollywood, so did the tempers of two shopkeepers, fighting verbally and physically while firefighters were attempting to put out the blaze that damaged five storefronts, including those of the two combatants.
"You burned it down," one of them could be heard yelling at the other as they were being held apart.
Arson investigators and federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms took charge of a probe into the origin of the fire, which required more than two hours to extinguish. A determination as to whether it was arson has not been announced.
The fire was reported around 5:30am--just before dawn--at Tokyo Delve's Sushi Bar in the 5200 block of Lankershim Boulevard, in the heart of the NoHo Arts District. Smoke could be seen from the 170 Freeway to the west.
More than 100 firefighters and at least five ladder trucks were at the scene. The fire spread to other businesses connected to the restaurant.
"We had a large one-story row of commercial buildings with fire showing," said Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Erik Scott. "The fire did rapidly start to extend into additional businesses. We called for waves of additional resources."
The fight broke out about an hour into the fire on the other side of Lankershim Blvd. The combatants included the owner of the sushi bar, who suffered a cut on his back that bled through his shirt, and the shopkeeper of one of the neighboring businesses, NBC4 learned from other shopkeepers and acquaintances.
Police took into custody the two men, and also a younger man heard addressing the owner of the sushi bar as "Dad."
They were questioned at LAPD North Hollywood station, not only about the fight, but also about the fire. Police did not identify them, but said two were arrested for battery, and the third for a misdemeanor warrant.
Tokyo Delve's, which is closed on Mondays, opened at the location in 1986. All businesses were closed at the time of the fire.