Seventeen people were reported injured in a large explosion that rocked South Los Angeles on Wednesday evening while the Los Angeles Police Department was disposing of illegal fireworks, police and the Los Angeles Fire Department said.
#BREAKING: Authorities are on the scene of a massive firework explosion in South Los Angeles where police had been working to remove fireworks from a home nearby. WATCH LIVE —> https://t.co/48pgdUvLPj pic.twitter.com/QoKgrEkbte
— CBS Los Angeles (@CBSLA) July 1, 2021
Nine of the injured were LAPD officers as well as an officer with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the LAFD said. All law enforcement personnel sustained minor injuries and were reported to be in “fair” condition, according to the LAFD.
Six civilian injuries that involved hospital transports were reported as well. Three were moderate and three were minor, the LAFD said. A 17th person who was hurt declined transport to a hospital.
Firefighters tell Maria Velasquez and her daughter Madelyn Heredia “It’s going to be a long night.” They live across the street from the center of the blast, won’t be able to see their ruined home in person. (Cont…) @ladailynews pic.twitter.com/h72WTbYwlX
— Eric Anthony Licas (@EricLicas) July 1, 2021
The blast happened in the area of East 27th Street near San Pedro Street at 7:36 p.m., according to LAPD Chief Michel Moore during a news conference Wednesday evening. The Fire Department had been on standby while the LAPD disposed of the fireworks and provided treatment to the victims.
I’ve directed the LAPD to conduct a full investigation into this incident, so we can better understand why this happened.
Illegal fireworks pose a great danger and can cost lives. We will prosecute those who use or possess them to the fullest extent of the law.
— MayorOfLA (@MayorOfLA) July 1, 2021
The explosion occurred while the LAPD’s bomb squad was attempting to dispose of a cache of illegal fireworks that were discovered earlier in the day, Moore said. Police seized more than 5,000 pounds of illegal fireworks in the same area and took one person into custody.
At about 8:40 a.m., police responded to a call regarding illegal fireworks being stored in the 700 block of East 27th Street, police and fire officials said. Officers contacted the homeowners and were given permission to enter their backyard, where a large stack of commercial grade fireworks were discovered, Moore said.
Many of the fireworks were removed from the home on a trailer and transported to a separate site for storage, Moore said. However, various improvised explosives were discovered during the process, according to Moore.
Moore described these improvised explosives as being 40 “Coca-Cola can” sized devices with fuses as well as about 200 similar, but smaller devices.
After further analysis, the improvised devices were loaded into one of the Police Department’s total containment vehicles, which contain an iron chamber in which they are supposed to be “safely detonated,” Moore said.
However, the detonation process resulted in a “failure,” Moore said.
“Something happened in that containment vehicle that should not have happened,” Moore said at the press conference. “We don’t know why, but we will figure out why.”
Moore said that there were less than 10 pounds of total charge inside of the containment vehicle, which was rated to handle up to 15 pounds of total charge.
Several cars and surrounding buildings sustained varying levels of damage in the explosion, LAFD said. The extent of the structural damage was described as primarily broken windows, however, windows were found to be broken on San Pedro Street, a distance from the blast, Moore said.
“It felt like a really hard earthquake like we never felt before, said Jazmin Vazquez, a resident, in an interview with CBS Los Angeles. “We were surprised so we ran out. It sounded like an explosion but really close to our family.”
The impacted areas encompass Adams Boulevard to the north, 29th Street to the south, Stanford Avenue to the east and Trinity Street to the west, LAFD said.
About eight or nine neighboring families were displaced by the explosion’s damage, according to Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price.
Maria Velasquez and her daughter, Madelyn Heredia, live near the blast site but were away when it happened.
They saw footage of blown-out car windows and shattered glass lying below where their front windows used to be.
“That’s not our house anymore,” 15-year-old Heredia said. “I have summer school, and I do Zoom. My laptop and everything was in there.”
Our Bomb Squad officers were in the process of seizing over 5,000 pounds of illegal fireworks in the area of 27th Street and San Pedro. Some of the fireworks were being stored in our Bomb Squad trailer as a precautionary measure. Unknown at this time what caused an explosion.
— LAPD HQ (@LAPDHQ) July 1, 2021
The force of the explosion destroyed the bomb squad trailer container. The cover of the container was found to have landed on Adams Boulevard, which Moore described as being a “substantial distance away” from the blast site.
Moore said the LAPD had knocked on doors of the surrounding homes and advised residents to temporarily evacuate prior to the planned detonation. However, he said that people were found inside some of the homes that were believed to be evacuated after the blast.
In this 2018 video posted on Twitter, a New York City police official described how the NYPD Bomb Squad’s total containment vessels work. If something exploded in the vessel, the pressure would bleed off through small vents while the force of the explosion would be contained, said Bomb Squad Commander Lt. Mark Torre.
The members of the NYPD’s Bomb Squad are proven experts at investigating suspicious packages. In the last 24 hours, they’ve worked especially hard keeping everyone in NYC safe. My thanks to them and all of NY’s Finest for what they do every day. pic.twitter.com/40ACh6L84L
— Terence Monahan (@TerenceMonahan) October 25, 2018
In Los Angeles on Wednesday, 27-year-old Arturo Cejas III was arrested on suspicion of reckless or malicious possession of a destructive device and was being held on $500,000 bail, police said.
Additionally, child endangerment charges were being sought against Cejas because he allegedly had his 10-year-old younger brother at the home where the fireworks were discovered, according to Moore. Moore said that the Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services would be launching an investigation as well.
The chief also said that the LAPD is pursuing an investigation into who provided the cache of fireworks to Cejas and how they were transported to the neighborhood.
LAPD declared a citywide tactical alert following the explosion, Officer William Cooper said. A tactical alert is utilized to ensure resources are available for other calls for service while many resources are dedicated to a particular incident, Cooper explained.
The Fire Department’s Urban Search and Rescue team was on scene to evaluate the structural integrity of the most heavily damaged building, LAFD said. Los Angeles Building and Safety personnel were also evaluating surrounding damaged buildings to determine their status.
Monique Villegas, spokeswoman for the ATF, said that ATF agents will arrive on Thursday, July 1, and assess the scene.
— Jessica Oh (@JessicaOhTV) July 1, 2021
Two hours after this blast, I’m at the emergency room. I lost my hearing for a while and now It’s barely coming back. Headache seems to be going away as well.
My thoughts go out to the nine injured at the scene. pic.twitter.com/GISS1v74hI
— Paul Sanchez (@PhotogSanchez) July 1, 2021
The explosion comes following a massive blast related to illegal commercial grade fireworks in Ontario that killed two people on March 16. Officials have said that some 40 homes suffered more than $3 million in damage in the Ontario blast.
Staff writer Eric Licas and City News Service contributed to this story.