The I-10 Freeway Fire May Have Been Caused by Exploding Hand Sanitizer

Shortly after a massive fire under the Interstate 10 freeway in downtown Los Angeles last weekend closed a 1-mile stretch normally traversed by 300,000 vehicles daily, California’s fire marshal announced that it was being investigated as possible arson.

Some locals have been eager to blame the homeless encampments that are common under California’s freeway overpasses, despite LA mayor Karen Bass saying this week that “there is no reason to assume that the reason this fire happened was because there were unhoused individuals nearby.”

Now there’s evidence that excess pandemic hand sanitizer may have contributed to the blaze. The Los Angeles Times reported this week that unnamed sources said that hand sanitizer, which is highly flammable, stored under the freeway may have worsened the I-10 destruction. The owner of a company subleasing storage space under the overpass tells WIRED he was storing half a pallet of hand sanitizer that had been left unsold after pandemic restrictions lifted.

If hand sanitizer is confirmed to have contributed to the I-10 disaster, it could be added to a growing list of tragic fires fueled by surplus sanitizer from the pandemic.

California authorities have so far released little information about the cause of the fire, citing the ongoing investigation. They have said that the space under the freeway was leased out by California’s transportation department to an entity that Governor Gavin Newsom called a “bad actor,” and who allowed many items to be stored under the overpass.

An attorney for Calabasas-based Apex Development sent out a news release Wednesday night objecting to being called a “bad actor.” In September, the state had filed a lawsuit alleging that Apex had stopped paying rent for the past year while subleasing the property out to at least five other businesses. Google Street View imagery of the stretch that burned shows plenty of boxes and wooden pallets under the freeway, leaving little room for any large encampments.

Apex Development’s CEO Anthony Nowaid has not yet returned messages from WIRED. The news release that Apex Development’s attorney sent out Wednesday night blames the fire on “public safety issues caused by the unhoused.”

Rudy Serafin, who owns one of the businesses that had been subleasing the space, tells WIRED that he did not notice any homeless people near the site the day before the fire, other than some cars parked along one street that he assumed belonged to people living in them. Serafin said he was using his lot to store the hand sanitizer he had been unable to sell after demand for it during the pandemic dropped. He estimates that he had between 100 and 125 bottles under the overpass.

via Wired Top Stories

November 16, 2023 at 09:45AM

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