Thirteen people were injured, including two firefighters and two civilians in critical condition, and countless residents were displaced after a windswept fire tore through a 25-story apartment building on L.A.'s westside Wednesday morning, officials said.
The flames broke out on the sixth floor in one of three buildings at the Barrington Plaza complex, located at 11740 Wilshire Blvd., around 8:37 a.m., according to a Los Angeles Fire Department alert. It's the same building where a destructive fire burned about six years ago.
Thick, dark smoke and flames could be seen billowing from the building's southeast corner as crews worked to extinguish the fire, which officials say was driven by wind gusts of up to 35 mph. Multiple windows were blown out due to the intense heat.
Hundreds of firefighters from multiple agencies responded and knocked the blaze down in approximately an hour and 19 minutes, according to LAFD.
Officials initially said eight people were injured before changing that number to seven by mid-afternoon. Of those, one is in grave condition and another is in critical condition, according to LAFD. Later, they updated the figure again to 13.
During a press conference, LAFD spokesman Erik Scott said that two of the 13 injured were firefighters who sustained minor burns and were treated at a local hospital.
The youngest patient — not among the seriously injured — is about 3 months old. Most of the patients were treated for smoke exposure and seven were transported to hospitals, fire officials said. Another four were treated and released, Scott said.
Several units across multiple floors sustained extensive damage, with twisted, melted metal and broken glass windows visible amid the building's charred exterior, Sky5 aerial video showed.
Firefighter crews planned to remain through the night to ensure that there was no rekindle.
The high-rise has 240 units and 339 residents, all of whom have temporarily been displaced, according to Scott.
The American Red Cross has set up an evacuation center at the Westwood Recreation Center, located at 1350 South Sepulveda Blvd. Residents could also seek lodging at the Beverly Hills Residence Inn at 1177 Beverly Drive or AC Hotel by Marriott Beverly Hills at 6399 Wilshire Blvd., where building management said it had reserved rooms.
"Our deepest sympathies go out to all who have been impacted by today's fire," Barrington Plaza management said in a statement. "Our priority is the safety and well-being of our residents. We will continue to work with the Los Angeles Fire Department and all local authorities."
Some residents say they didn't hear smoke alarms
Residents described a frightening and chaotic scene after the fire ignited, including some who told KTLA they didn't hear an alarm and were first alerted to the blaze by neighbors knocking on their doors.
One woman said she heard an alarm, but it didn't go off until "way after the smoke was already everywhere."
Resident Eric Kaya told KTLA he was in his seventh floor apartment with his wife and child when they saw smoke and fire coming from a neighboring unit, which he said was rented out as an Airbnb.
Kaya knocked on the neighbor's door repeatedly, but later saw a man brought down on a ladder by firefighters.
He and his family also escaped, but Kaya didn't have time to grab shoes as the fire worsened.
“There was so much smoke I could barely breathe,” he said.
Another resident told KTLA he saw people rushing out, including some who didn’t have a chance to dress before fleeing, and others waving for help from balconies.
LAFD initially said people apparently had leaped to safety before later confirming that no one jumped.
Video and photos showed a man on the exterior of the building clinging to a sixth or seventh floor near raging flames while a firefighter on a ladder attempted to rescue him.
He was ultimately brought down safely.
“When we arrived on scene, we did have an individual on a balcony that looked as if they were threatening to jump due to the heat and the flame behind him,” Scott said. “Our firefighters immediately got on their public address loud speakers, were able to calm that individual down, and we were able to place an aerial ladder up there and have an effective rescue.”
About 15 people were hoisted by helicopter from the roof in the aftermath of the fire.
Scott said they were transported to the Department of Veteran Affairs' West Los Angeles Medical Center, which is several blocks away.
Fire deemed 'suspicious'
Arson investigators have been dispatched to the scene to determine what sparked the destructive blaze.
The cause was not immediately known, but LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said it appeared to be "suspicious." In a news conference later in the day, LAPD Captain Randall Goddard said, "I would not use the word suspicious."
Investigators are looking into whether the blaze is related to another one that burned earlier in the morning at a high-rise office building several blocks away at the northwest corner of Wilshire and San Vicente boulevards, according to Terrazas.
At least 50 people were evacuated from the first fire, which began on lower floors around 6:30 a.m. and was knocked down within 90 minutes, an alert stated. One person was treated for smoke inhalation.
Firefighters who battled that blaze were among the first responders to arrive at the second scene.
No one has been taken into custody in connection with either fire and a suspect has not been identified, a Los Angeles Police Department official said at a late morning news conference.
According to Scott, the building was up to code and was not required to be equipped with fire sprinklers because it was built prior to 1974.
Devastating fire at Barrington Plaza in 2013
A fire tore through the 11th floor of the same building at Barrington Plaza on Oct. 18, 2013, injuring eight people, displacing dozens of residents and causing millions of dollars in damages, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The cause of that blaze was "undetermined," but it was "most probably" sparked by a discarded cigarette, according to the Fire Department.
The building, which was built in 1961, did not have fire sprinklers, LAFD's Brian Humphrey said at the time.
The complex has studio, one- and two-bedroom units, with rents varying from $2,350 per month to $3,695 per month, according to Zillow.
It is located in the Sawtelle neighborhood, right along the border of L.A.'s upscale Brentwood neighborhood and a short drive away from the 405 Freeway.
A stretch of Wilshire could be seen blocked off by fire trucks and ambulances. With one of the busiest streets in the area effectively shut down, traffic was snarled in the area during the morning commute.
The intersection of Wilshire and Barrington is expected to remain closed off for about 24 hours, and motorists are urged to avoid the area, according to LAPD.