A major explosion in South Los Angeles damaged buildings and injured at least 17 people, including police officers, as a bomb squad was in the process of seizing more than 5,000 pounds of illegal fireworks in the area.
The blast damaged cars in a residential neighborhood and left debris on the streets, footage on social media showed. A truck that was being used to collect the fireworks was also severely damaged, video showed.
In a news conference Wednesday night, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said officials responding to a home on the 700 block of East 27th Street had found thousands of pounds of illegal fireworks as well as improvised explosive devices that were “more unstable.”
An LAPD bomb squad transferred the improvised devices into the iron chamber of a “total containment vehicle” that’s meant to contain such explosive material, he said.
Police detonated the devices at 7:37 p.m., believing that the vehicle would be able to contain the explosion, but there was a “total catastrophic failure of that containment vehicle,” Moore said.
“Clearly protocols were followed and pursued, but something happened in that containment vehicle that should have not happened and we don’t know why,” the chief said. “We intend to find out why.”
Officials said that nine LAPD officers and an officer from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were treated for minor injuries and are in fair condition. Six civilians were also taken to a hospital, three with serious injuries and three with minor injuries. One civilian was assessed for injuries but not transported.
Moore said that none of the injuries were life-threatening.
Los Angeles Police Department spokesperson Tony Im said that Arturo Cejas III, a man in his 20s, had been arrested on suspicion of reckless or malicious possession of a destructive device and is being held on $500,000 bail.
Maria Velasquez, 39, said that she was having dinner with her family when police knocked on the door of their home and asked them to evacuate. They didn’t say why.
Velasquez and her family went to attend a funeral viewing. While they were there, Velasquez began receiving messages from neighbors asking whether she was OK. One neighbor said there had been a car bomb near her house.
The streets were blocked off when Velasquez returned home, and she and her father, Hilario, waited outside a laundromat. They said they had heard that at least four neighbors from the same household had been injured in the blast — two suffering cuts from broken glass.
The gate to their house appeared to have been blown off. The windows of Hilario’s truck were shattered.
Velasquez said she was most worried about her dog, Camela, who was still at home.
“I never liked fireworks,” she said. “If something has happened to my dog, more so now.”
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote on Twitter that he was monitoring the situation closely and had directed the LAPD to conduct a full investigation “so we can better understand why this happened.”
“Illegal fireworks pose a great danger and can cost lives,” he said. “We will prosecute those who use or possess them to the fullest extent of the law.”
In the run-up to the Fourth of July, city officials have repeatedly warned the public about the dangers of illegal fireworks.
Last week, City Atty. Mike Feuer said his office had sent cease-and-desist letters to online platforms, including Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, 5Miles and OfferUp, that agreed to remove posts advertising fireworks for sale in L.A.
On Tuesday, the L.A. City Council approved a motion by Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas to direct city agencies to report back on setting up a system to track and respond to fireworks complaints through a mobile application.
Such a system was established by San Bernardino County after an Ontario home packed with illegal fireworks exploded in March, killing two people. During the cleanup, authorities loaded dozens of large bins with unexploded fireworks.