Drivers in Los Angeles who use one of the busiest freeways in the area will need to change their travel plans for an indefinite period of time as authorities assess the damage from a fire early Saturday that shut down part of an interstate downtown.
All lanes in a nearly two-mile stretch of Interstate 10 will be closed until further notice, Caltrans, the state’s transportation department, confirmed on Sunday.
The section is what one official called one of the “largest arteries” going in and out of downtown Los Angeles, just west of the East Los Angeles Interchange, where several freeways come together. About 300,000 vehicles use the freeway for daily commuting between Los Angeles and Orange County, Calif., Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a news conference on Sunday afternoon. And it is a major conduit connecting Southern California ports to the rest of the country, carrying about 20,000 trucks daily.
While Interstate 10 remains closed between Alameda Street and Santa Fe Avenue, officials said that people planning to travel to and from downtown Los Angeles shouldfor delays and for alternative routes.
More than 160 firefighters worked for several hours to extinguish the blaze, which was reported in the early morning hours on Saturday at a storage yard that housed wood pallets, abandoned vehicles, car parts and shipping containers. The flames quickly spread to another storage yard, and about 400 feet of the freeway sustained damages, Mr. Newsom said.
The intense flames battered close to 100 columns supporting the highway, the governor added. They also melted some guardrails and caused chunks of concrete to fall from the overpass, photos and video show.
“What appears on the outside to be problematic may not be the real problem,” Mr. Newsom said. “It’s what lies underneath.”
A nearby encampment for unhoused people was evacuated. No deaths or injuries were reported, Mayor Karen Bass of Los Angeles said.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, which is expected to be completed by Monday morning, Mr. Newsom said. Structural engineers will take a deeper look to assess the damage once the investigation is complete.
The governor added that authorities had already been looking into property records of the land beneath the interstate and were pursuing legal action, believing the property’s tenant had been violating the law.
The closure prompted Mr. Newsom to declare a state of emergency on Saturday night, as officials scrambled to assess the damage and organize repair work.
“The state is mobilizing resources and taking steps to ensure any necessary repairs are completed as soon as possible to minimize the impact on those traveling in and around Los Angeles,” Mr. Newsom said in a statement on Saturday.
In her own statement, Ms. Bass likened the level of structural damage to that of an earthquake in 1994, during which Caltrans “worked around the clock” for repairs to the freeways.
The mayor also said that she had spoken with Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. secretary of transportation, who told her that the White House is ready to support the city’s additional infrastructure needs.
The effects of the closure were already evident on the streets near the freeway. A strong smell of fire hung in the air midmorning on Sunday near the Alameda Street exit, with some frustrated motorists honking as traffic backed up.
Business at a Shell gas station at the 14th Street exit, part of the closed section, was already down, approximately 50 percent, in the last 24 hours, according to Alexander Shenouda, the manager. Mr. Shenouda, 40, said some workers on the interstate told him it could be weeks before the exit reopens.
On Sunday, Mr. Newsom and Ms. Bass visited the site, an industrial area, examining the damage under the overpass off the 14th Street exit.
According to the government data, this section is much busier than the part of a highway in northeast Philadelphia that collapsed in June, after a tanker truck caught fire. That structure, on Interstate 95, sustained significant damage but reopened in less than two weeks, after officials initially estimated that replacing the collapsed part would take months. The state is continuinginto next year.