Los Angeles police injure 17 in explosion after detonating fireworks they seized
The Los Angeles police department detonated a cache of homemade fireworks it had seized, causing a major explosion on a residential block that injured 17 people, flipped and damaged cars and smashed windows in nearby homes.
It could take days to determine why what was supposed to be a safe operation to handle explosives that police said were too unstable to remove turned into a huge explosion.
Police exploded the devices at about 7.30pm on Wednesday in an iron containment vessel on a tractor-trailer in a South Los Angeles neighborhood, believing the vehicle would be able to contain the explosion. But there was a “total catastrophic failure of that containment vehicle”, the LA police chief, Michel Moore, said, according to the LA Times.
“Clearly, protocols were followed and pursued. But something happened in that containment vessel that should not have happened and we don’t know why,” the chief added. “But we intend to find out why.”
Homes, cars and a laundromat had windows shattered and one car had its side plowed in and was knocked on its side by the force of the blast.
The blast sent nine police officers and a federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives officer to the hospital with minor injuries, the fire chief, Ralph M Terrazas, said.
Six civilians, ranging from 51 to 85 years old, were taken to the hospital, three with minor and three with moderate injuries, and one person was examined at the scene but was not transported, fire officials said.
News reports showed several people on gurneys being taken to ambulances.
Fireworks are illegal to sell or possess in Los Angeles and in unincorporated areas of the county but “every year, we see the devastation and destruction” from them, Terrazas said.
Authorities said the blast illustrated the dangers of underground pyrotechnic sales. In March, a fireworks explosion at a home in Ontario, east of Los Angeles, left two people dead and caused at least $3.2m in damage.
The explosion on Wednesday came after police had spent the day disposing of some 3,000 to 5,000 pounds of commercial-grade fireworks that were found in the home following an early-morning tip. Police found some them on a patio in cartons stacked eight to 10 feet high, Moore said.
The fireworks cartons were marked “Made in China” and were bought out of state in order to sell them in the neighborhood for use on the Fourth of July, according to Moore.
The bomb squad was called because the large volume of explosives at the home posed an “imminent and real danger“ to the community, Moore said.
Three box trucks and a 53ft trailer were brought in to load up the fireworks and move them to a safe location, the chief said. However, officers also found “improvised explosives” that were too dangerous to move.
Those materials were taken to a “total containment vehicle”, Moore explained, a multi-ton semi-tractor trailer rig with a spherical iron chamber that is designed to safely detonate explosives.
Moore said less than 10lb of material was placed in the chamber, far less than its safety rating.
“This vessel should have been able to dispose of that material,” he said.
As a safety measure, police had knocked on doors before the blast to evacuate homes on both sides of the street where the truck was parked. But firefighters later found people in some of the homes, Terrazas said.
Despite shattered windows, Terrazas said the explosion seemed to have caused mainly superficial damage to homes and gas and water lines were intact.
Moore said a response team consisting of members from around the country would be arriving in town to examine the site and walk through it for an investigation that could take several days. The chief also said the blast might have thrown debris and possibly dangerous material some distance.
A 27-year-old resident was arrested on suspicion of possessing a destructive device but he also may face charges of child endangerment because his 10-year-old brother was in the home, Moore said.