State investigators discovered fire and safety hazards at a leased storage space under an elevated Los Angeles freeway before it was engulfed in an arson fire last weekend, according to documents released by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). The fire, fueled by flammable materials stored in violation of the lease, caused the closure of a section of Interstate 10 near downtown for several days. Repair crews are working to reopen all lanes by Tuesday.
The documents revealed that state inspectors had visited the site six times since early 2020 and repeatedly flagged problematic conditions, including the presence of solvents, oils, fuels, and other prohibited items. The leased land under I-10 has been held by Apex Development Inc. since 2008, despite a contractual condition prohibiting the storage of flammable or hazardous materials.
Two companies that subleased the property also raised concerns about fire hazards and other dangers related to homeless individuals living under the freeway. Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the state will reassess the practice of leasing land under roads to generate funds for mass transportation projects.
Apex Development is currently facing a lawsuit filed by state officials for unpaid rent amounting to $78,000. The most recent spot inspection conducted by Caltrans, just over a month before the fire, identified numerous lease violations. However, specific details were not disclosed in the released documents.
Apex Development’s attorney, Mainak D’Attaray, denied the company’s responsibility for the fire and stated that improvements had been made to the property. D’Attaray also claimed that Caltrans and the State of California’s Fire Marshal had inspected the premises periodically.
Authorities have released two photos of a “person of interest” in the arson case and are seeking the public’s help in identifying him. The individual is described as a man between 30 and 35 years old, approximately 6 feet tall, and weighing between 170 and 190 pounds. The photographs show him wearing blue shorts, a black hooded sweatshirt, a green scarf, and a knee brace. The person appears to have visible burn injuries on the left leg.
No injuries were reported in the fire, but 16 homeless individuals living in an encampment near the storage space were relocated to shelters. The closure of the freeway section disrupted the daily commute of approximately 300,000 vehicles.
Governor Newsom’s office has directed Caltrans to conduct a comprehensive review of all leased sites under freeways across California. The investigation into the arson fire is ongoing, and anyone with information is urged to contact the tip hotline provided by the governor’s office.