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Fire Breaks Out in Downtown Los Angeles Skyscraper

Aired January 12, 2001 - 1:42 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, there's a fire that's broken at a transportation building in Los Angeles. It's on the upper floors of the 27-story Los Angeles transit headquarters. It's called the MTA building. We do know that they are trying to evacuate employees that work for the metropolitan transportation authority. This building is located near Union Station and Highway 101 on the north edge of downtown L.A.

No word on what's caused this fire. We don't know how many people might still be in the building. You can see right, there the fire department has already reached a pretty high level. Again the fire has broken out on the 27th floor. Not sure -- I'm sorry, I apologize. We don't know what floor the fire is on, but this building is a 27-story floor building.

So, there you see the pictures. We don't know where the evacuations are taking place; how people are getting out of this building or how extensive the fire is; how much of the building might be in flame.

Let's listen for a moment to our affiliate's coverage, KCBS from L.A.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: MTA building in downtown Los Angeles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it looks like -- exactly, might have come from inside of the -- in side the wall, something that was inside the walls that caught fire and burned through the area. It doesn't look like this was -- it looks like something that was actually on this landing here. It was inside, maybe, the balcony wall that actually caught fire because you can see the entire wall is completely destroyed here on the outside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Firefighters moving around on the top. This fire at One Gateway Plaza, about 10:21 a.m. is when the alarm went in. And smoke, thick black smoke, if you were with us when we first started covering this fire, really you could be seeing it for miles from downtown Los Angeles, which is, of course, where the MTA building is, and there was some concern this was a serious fire inside. But the more we look at it, Michael, the more it looks like it was just on the roof here that this structure, whatever it was that we see, that wall, if you will was what was burning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, exactly. It looks like something that was either internally that caught fire and completely destroyed it or it might have been some sort of tubing or something that was running alongside the building that caught fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Certainly good news for the people who work in that building, and again, no injuries reported, and everyone was able to evacuate safely and quickly from the MTA headquarters in downtown, not too far from Union Station, as we've said before.

ALLEN: Letting us know that all of the people have gotten out of that building. The fire seems limited to this roof terrace area; it doesn't seem to be too high up, if you caught a glimpse there of the parking lot. But something we wanted to check out there in Los Angeles. That's a 27-story building, and it's one of the newest towers in Los Angeles.

Let's rejoin KCBS.

MARK COOGAN, KCBS CORRESPONDENT: ... one of the MTA employees who was inside the building. Brent, maybe you can tell us what happened?

BRENT THOMPSON, MTA EMPLOYEE: Well, basically, I was working and I heard the fire trucks arrive, and somebody else in another unit noticed some debris dropping down from the building and indicated that a fire was take place and shortly thereafter, we started to evacuate.

COOGAN: How was it? How did the evacuation go?

THOMPSON: I think the evacuation was smooth. We've practiced it on several occasions and took place as scheduled.

COOGAN: Now, do you know if anyone was hurt in here? Did you hear anything about that?

THOMPSON: No, I didn't hear anyone was hurt. I just basically started the process of getting out of the building.

COOGAN: What floor were you on and what floor is that that's on fire?

THOMPSON: I was on the 13th floor, and I believe that's the 26th and 27th floor which are not commonly occupied. They're probably equipment up there and possibly that's what started the fire.

COOGAN: When you say not commonly occupied, can you tell me what might be on there on those top floors?

THOMPSON: I'd assume equipment that supplies air conditioning and heating to the building.

COOGAN: But it's looking pretty good now. You think everyone got out of here, at least as far as you know?

THOMPSON: Yes, I do believe everybody did evacuate.

COOGAN: I'm glad to hear that. Thank you very much for your time. Brent Thompson, an employee of the MTA and as you look now, you just see the wisps of smoke and occasionally a flare-out of a firefighters' hose fighting the fire up there.

This looks so much better than when we first saw it. We are about eight blocks away; it looked like a smoldering volcano on top of the MTA building. It looked terrible. There were flames coming out and it looked like the kind of life-threatening situation you never want to see.

But now you just see the little wisps of smoke. The firefighters have done a terrific job. MTA employees we have talked to in the brief time we've been here have said that have they drilled and drilled and drilled on evacuation in just such an emergency, and let's hope it paid off. It certainly looks at this point like it has.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mark, we've seen this before. Not too often in Los Angeles. I remember the TransAmerican Building had a fire, was out fairly quick but it was inside some offices as well. But it's this one, luckily outside on the roof, and it looks like just equipment and maybe a wall that's up there was burned?

Mark Coogan, still there? Well, we're looking at a live shot now, and firefighters, of course, mopping up and making sure that the last bit of embers are put out, and maybe digging behind some walls to get some fire that's behind there and get that out.

And we have the helicopter now. Michael James (ph), are you seeing anything new from your perspective?

MICHAEL JAMES, KCBS CORRESPONDENT: Well, as we panned in a little bit closer here, you can see that there was some sort of a fire burning that was burning alongside this wall, and whatever was covering it is completely destroyed. You kind of just see the skeleton of the internal portion of that wall, right now, that they're trying to put out. So, it looks like there was something that was running along the entire -- entire balcony, here, right outside of that wall that caught fire.

We still don't know exactly what it is, but it quickly burned along the entire balcony and pretty much destroyed whatever this wall was here. We don't know if it was under construction or not, so, if it was only maybe paper or some sort of tarp that was covering the area. But it looks like they've gotten most of the flame out here. Nothing but white smoke which is always a good sign here as we cover some fires.

They have quite a few firefighter, at least a dozen firefighters up on this landing right now, and basically just kind of mopping this thing up. We see a few flames, you know, here and there, but for the most part, looks like this one is going to be knocked down rather shortly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, Michael James, thank you. Let's go back to Mark Coogan, who's live on the ground.

COOGAN: ... from the MTA. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mark, go ahead.

COOGAN: This is Gary Wosk of the MTA, now, from the public affairs department. How are things going? Do you know if everybody's gotten out OK?

GARY WASK, MTA EMPLOYEE: I don't know at this time if everybody has been able to evacuate the building. It appears that most people did. It was a very orderly evacuation. Everybody went down the stairwells. As we were going down, the fire department was...

ALLEN: All right, while we watch these pictures from our affiliate KCBS, we're going to talk with Brian Humphrey of the Los Angeles Fire Department. Brian, thanks for joining us. We've been hearing that it looks like they're getting a handle on this. What can you tell us about why this fire broke out and where it is on the building?

BRIAN HUMPHREY, LOS ANGELES FIRE DEPARTMENT: Well, this fire broke out shortly after 10:21 local time, and now, about 20 minutes into the fire, we have more than 125 Los Angeles city firefighters on the scene. We made quick work of the fire.

In accordance, I would certainly call it a textbook fire. It was 125 firefighters who secured the lobby and made their way up more than 50 flights of the stairs into the top of this building, which serves as the headquarters for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. This is next to landmark Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.

The fire at this time has been extinguished. It was confined to an edifice at the top of the building, near an observation deck. It's utilized by window washers; that framework that we've seen earlier at the top of the building is window washers.

Here you see just a few of the many -- 25 fire companies which were sent to the scene. The strength of our response was not only in numbers. but in knowledge. Los Angeles firefighters are well versed in high-rise fire fighting. We take this job very seriously. Again, we were involved with this building from the ground up. From the day ground broke until it was completed, we were intimately involved in preparing this building for the fire fight.


ALLEN: Did they have any trouble -- they had to go up -- we can see now that it did break out on such a very high level. Did they have trouble getting up there so quickly when so many people were trying to get out of the building?

HUMPHREY: Well, the greatest dangers to firefighters these days are, obviously, are lack of physical fitness and that thankfully wasn't the case with these firefighters here in L.A. City who are well-prepared. The moment they hit the front doors of the building they knew that they had at least 50 flights of stairs to climb. At the end of that 50-flight climb, they had to be ready to fight fire. (CROSSTALK)

ALLEN: Have you heard from any -- have you heard from any of them working at it what they think might have been behind this fire?

HUMPHREY: Well, at this point in time, we're looking at machinery as well as electrical items that are behind the edifice. The small aluminum frames you see behind the edifice are window- washing equipment and we're looking to see what, if any effect, that this may have had in the fire.

ALLEN: All right, Brian Humphrey. We thank you so much. Again, this is one of the newer high-rises in downtown Los Angeles. It's the 27-story transit headquarter building, and apparently, according to KCBS, as you heard, no injuries and it appears everyone is likely out of the building who worked there. We'll continue to follow the story. If there are any further developments, we'll pass them along.



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