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Explosive Titanium Fire Injures Firefighters

Fire ripped through a metal recycling business in South Los Angeles early today, igniting titanium that caused explosions and burning so hot it melted steel girders.

The blaze at United Alloys & Metals at 761 E. Slauson Ave. was reported at 11:43 p.m. Tuesday and burned out of control for more than an hour, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. The cause of the fire has not been determined.

Video of the blaze showed an explosion that rocked the cameraman and showered the area with sparks.

Three firefighters suffered burns, and a fourth was was checked out for ear damage, according to LAFD spokesman Cecil Manresa.

Last month, a metal recycling business across the street also caught fire.

Last night’s blaze was believed to be fueled by several light metals that burn, including magnesium.

“You can’t put water on titanium,” LAFD Capt. Gail Manning said. “They’re going to have to let the metal burn. It’s going to be a bulldozer operation.”

A damage estimate was unavailable early today, but more than one structure was believed to have been destroyed.

“An extensive and extended overhaul will continue for the balance of the day by having two task forces and one battalion chief rotate through the fire ground to ensure extinguishment of all debris,” said Erik Scott of the city fire department.

About 100 firefighters were initially assigned the fire and about 220 firefighters were still at the scene about 2 a.m., Manresa said.

Firefighters were ordered out of the building at 12:03 a.m. to fight the fire in defensive mode — from the outside.

Two minutes later, fire commanders reported a wall collapsing. At 12:10 a.m., part of the roof caved in, Manresa said.

An explosion at 12:25 a.m. shook the burning complex, rained debris on fire crews and shattered emergency vehicle windows.

Fire commanders ordered head counts to assess possible injuries. The injured firefighters were assessed at the scene before they were taken to hospitals.

“Many of you have seen at the brush fires the ember storms we experience,” LAFD Deputy Chief Mario Rueda said. “That is exactly what we experienced here.

“As a result of these explosions, titanium chips dispersed over the neighborhood,” Rueda said. “Large chunks of concrete impacted some of our apparatus and the concussive effect knocked out some of our windows, also of apparatus.”

By 12:35 a.m. the blaze had spread to at least one adjoining building and ladder crews set up at 5715 McKinley Ave., Manresa said.

Fire crews stayed out of the buildings, but used alleys between the structures to fight the fire.

The damaged buildings includes a two-story office area, a warehouse and as many as six “occupancies,” Scott said.

KESQ News Team

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