Apartment Buildings Evacuated in Westlake as Officials Work to Contain Gas Leak

Two three-story apartment buildings in the Westlake district were evacuated as authorities were working to contain a gas leak that was sending flames spurting from the sidewalk Friday night.

The incident was first reported just before 6:15 p.m. after several people in the area of Seventh Street and Westlake Avenue heard what they thought was an explosion as called 911, said Antoine McKnight, an assistant chief with the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The first officials at the scene found 2-inch flames emanating from an area of sidewalk with a vapor blanketing the ground and a gas odor in the building at 712 S. Westlake Ave.

Firefighters moved quickly to evacuate the structure's 44 units, McKnight said, noting that the building was built before 1933.

All occupants were evacuated to safety with no reported injured, the assistant chief said.

A second building at 711 S. Westlake Ave. with 30 units was later evacuated as well, according to an LAFD alert.

As many as 120 people were ultimately removed from the residences and taken via bus to a shelter at the Lafayette Recreation Center, the agency said.

Hazardous material and paramedic teams were also on hand.

"In the eventuality something does go wrong, we're ready to handle it," McKnight said.

Westlake Avenue between Seventh and Eight streets, as well as Seventh and Eight streets between Alvarado and Bonnie Brae streets, would be closed for the duration of the investigation, and motorists and pedestrians were urged to avoid the area.

Hazmat experts found an increase in combustible gas in a below-ground vault across the street from the evacuated building. The vault also had a small crack, possibly consistent with the reported explosion, LAFD said.

Officials with Southern California Edison later confirmed it was natural gas and were working to control the leak and restore service, though officials were unsure when that would be completed or when residents would be allowed to return home.

The L.A. Department of Water and Power also responding to assist in the investigation and turned off power in the area to ensure no electrical mishaps would occur.

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