On July 23, 2016 at 6:47PM, Los Angeles Fire Department received an emergency call of a building structure that was reported to be on fire. It was an open pallet yard located along the south 700 block of Ceres Ave. and behind the south 700 block of Kohler St.
After wrapping up a photo shoot along Santa Fe in the nearby Arts District, I ran into fellow HappeningInDTLA photographer, Raquel Natalicchio who was out shooting near 4th street also in the Arts District. We saw some thick black smoke quickly rising into the air just a few blocks away and we arrived to the scene of a massive fire that just began. People were running to the location and getting as close to the fire as they could in hopes of capturing it with their phones. The heat from the fires could be felt from a block away. Only after a few minutes of arriving, four to five loud explosions shook the ground and the Los Angeles Police Department quickly started clearing people out of the south 700 block of Kohler St. Luckily, Raquel had her press pass with her and after showing it to the cops, we were able to remain on scene to take photographs. The whole block was empty except for the firefighters and a few police officers making sure no one entered the immediate area.
We started seeing more firefighters and fire trucks arriving on location. A team of twenty firefighters entered one of the buildings along Kohler St. after the doors had been sawed off. Half of them went through the door and the others climbed onto the roof using a long ladder that was positioned on the side of the building. Some firefighters carried chainsaws while the others carried axes. These tools are necessary to break into locked buildings that might be at risk of catching on fire.
After about an hour, the team of firefighters that went into the burning building evacuated and was able to rest for a little bit. Some of them were exhausted and tired due to the high heat caused by the flames and also the 90 degree weather that tied the record high for that day. Many firefighters immediately started taking off their gear and equipment to vent.
Firefighter, Taylor Rappaport and his partner, Kory Prichard were part of the team that entered the burning building. I asked Taylor, why he started taking off his gear and he replied.. “Our gear is designed to be fully encapsulating to keep heat from getting inside and burning us. The problem with that is is also doesn’t let any heat out also and after extended work periods you can overheat easily. Plus the temperatures inside the buildings are extremely hot which adds to the equation.”
After the second hour, camera men and news reporters started arriving on the scene. I told Raquel, “No one will have these photos since we’re the only ones covering this fire since it started.” ABC 7 Eyewitness News reporter Leanne Suter arrived on scene and was able to get an interview with a man who owned one of the buildings that caught on fire. Ben Medansky, owner of a ceramic business says “Everything I worked so hard for is completely destroyed, most of it is clay and materials but there are a lot of valuable things in there that is destroyed.” Ben is a ceramicist artist and lost his studio during the fire. His studio was located right behind the open pallet yard where the fire initially started. Being an artist myself, I cannot begin to imagine what it must feel like to lose something so valuable and irreplaceable. It was a place where he designed, visualized and created his art. If you would like help and make a donation, a GoFundMe Page has been created to help restore Ben’s studio.
ABC 7’s Leanne asked Raquel if she could get an interview with her since we were at the location during the early stages of the fire.
More than 180 Los Angeles Fire Department Firefighters were called to the open pallet yard fire and was considered a Major Emergency Fire which took a little over 2 hours to contain. A total of 6 businesses were affected by the fires but only one was completely destroyed while 3 businesses sustained significant damages but not considered a complete loss.
This was the first time being so close to a fire and witnessing the process of what it takes to put out fires from beginning to end. Firefighters have to battle fires under life threatening conditions especially during the summer which is also considered to be “fire season.” The LAFD have been really busy during the past few months with these large brush fires and everyday building fires like this one. After witnessing them in action and all they do, I would consider them as being real life heroes to the people. Much respect and appreciation goes out to The Los Angeles Fire Department and all firefighters everywhere.