Arson likely caused fire that damaged vital artery of Los Angeles freeway, governor says

In this aerial view, Interstate 10 is empty due to a closure in the aftermath of a fire, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, in Los Angeles. Los Angeles drivers are being tested in their first commute since a weekend fire that closed a major elevated interstate near downtown. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

LOS ANGELES — Arson likely caused a massive weekend fire that has indefinitely closed a vital section of a freeway in Los Angeles, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday.

He did not say whether there were any suspects or persons of interest.


The fire left the columns of Interstate 10 charred and chipped and the deck guardrails were twisted and blackened. Crews shored up the most damaged section for the safety of workers clearing the debris. It’s still unclear what structural damage, if any, the blaze caused to the freeway.

Engineers were assessing the situation Monday. The freeway is used by 300,000 vehicles daily and the closure is expected to be felt well beyond the city, including possibly slowing the transport of goods from the twin ports of LA and Long Beach, federal officials have said. The ports are among the nation’s largest and handle more than half the goods coming into the U.S. President Joe Biden had been briefed on the fire that erupted Saturday.

“We know that the origin of this is arson,” LA Mayor Karen Bass said. “We do not know other information.” She emphasized that there also is no reason to assume it was started by people who are homeless living under that section of freeway.

Bass acknowledged the havoc another closure of I-10 will have.

“It’s disrupting in every way, whether you are talking about traveling to and from work or your child care plans and the flow of goods and commerce, this will disrupt the lives of Angelenos,” Bass said. “So I will not settle for anything other than a rebuilding plan and a timeline that becomes a new model for speed.”

Los Angeles will be without a section of the freeway for an uncertain amount of time that caused damage reminiscent of the 1994 Northridge earthquake that flattened thoroughfares, officials warned Monday.

After the quake, it took more than two months to repair Interstate 10 and that was considered significantly fast.

“This isn’t going to be resolved in a couple of days, and it’s not going to take a couple years,” Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt told The Associated Press. “But whether it’s weeks or months, we’re still too early to tell.”

“The ports are still open and the goods will still flow, but when you remove a section of the interstate that carries 300,000 vehicles a day, there’s going to be spillover impacts,” Bhatt said. “The concern there is the quicker we can get this open, the faster we can remove an impediment.”

Bhatt said the fiery June 11 crash of a tractor-trailer hauling gasoline in Philadelphia that collapsed an elevated section of Interstate 95, snarling traffic and hurting area businesses, highlights what such disasters can do to not only a city but the nation.

It reopened less than two weeks later due to a quick rebuild.

LA drivers were tested Monday during the first weekday commute following the raging fire beneath an elevated section of I-10. Some freeway exits backed up as drivers were forced to use crowded surface streets to bypass the damaged freeway stretch south of downtown.

Some routes, however, had lighter traffic, suggesting drivers heeded warnings from the city to make alternate plans. Cellphones were blasted with a predawn reminder for residents to plan different routes or expect significant delays.

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