Downtown LA

More Than 300 Charges Filed in Downtown LA Building Explosion and Fire That Injured Firefighters

The fire and explosion in May left 12 firefighters injured.

NBC Universal, Inc.

More than 300 criminal charges have been filed against the owners and operators of four downtown Los Angeles buildings and three businesses for alleged fire code and safety violations following a fire and explosion in May that injured a dozen firefighters, City Attorney Mike Feuer announced Friday.

Dramatic video from the Boyd Street fire showed firefighters escaping through a ball of flames that rocketed from the burning building. No fatalities were reported, but firefighters suffered injuries that required treatment at a burn center.

“The fire and explosion that ripped through the Boyd Street property caused our firefighters great suffering -- and came perilously close to costing their lives. We'll do everything we can to hold the owners and operators of buildings and businesses responsible for complying with our fire and safety codes,'' the city attorney said in a written statement.

The Los Angeles city Fire Chief sat down with the NBCLA I-Team to explain. Lolita Lopez reports for the NBC4 News on Thursday, May 21, 2020.

Among those facing charges is Steve Sungho Lee, 56, who owns the building at 327 Boyd St., where the May 16 fire allegedly started, according to the City Attorney's Office.

Lee -- who is set to be arraigned Nov. 19 in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom -- could face up to 68 years in jail and thousands of dollars in fines if convicted as charged, officials said.

It was not immediately clear whether he has an attorney.

The businesses Smoke Tokes, Green Buddha and Bio Hazard, which are housed in the building, are also among those charged. The building and three other properties owned by Lee were allegedly found to have illegal storage of hazardous materials, according to the City Attorney's Office.

The fire was reported at 6:26 p.m. and crews were inside when a powerful explosion shook the neighborhood around Smoke Tokes Warehouse Distributor, identified by fire officials as a supplier for those who make butane honey oil. Firefighters were inside the building at the time.

In a video posted several days later on YouTube, Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said firefighters had noticed that conditions were deteriorating and began an immediate retreat to the street.

"During the transition out of the building and off the roof, 11 firefighters and the aerial ladder of Truck 9 were engulfed by a massive fireball that stretched entirely across Boyd Street, scorching the cab of Truck 9," the fire chief said. "This prompted a mayday call to be broadcast, causing dozens of firefighters to come to the aid of their fallen colleagues."

A 12th firefighter was also taken to the hospital, with more than 230 firefighters eventually responding to the blaze that took 1 hour and 42 minutes to extinguish, the chief said.

At least one of the firefighters remained hospitalized until July, according to the LAFD. Earlier this week, some of the injured firefighters met with doctors and nurses who treated them at the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center.

The misdemeanor charges stem from alleged violations of state law and the city's Municipal Code, along with failure to comply with orders for alleged fire code and building code violations, according to the City Attorney's Office.

“The Boyd Street Fire was a devastating incident that could have easily turned into an epic tragedy for the LAFD,'' Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said in the statement. "Thanks to the work of our arson investigators, the Fire Prevention Bureau, the LAPD and the City Attorney's Office, we are one step closer to holding accountable the individuals who may have contributed to the circumstances that precipitated this fire and, hopefully, be able to prevent similar incidents in the future.''

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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