10 Freeway in downtown L.A. will remain closed indefinitely until damage assessment and repairs can be made

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 11: Firefighters look at the their Fire Engine 17 that got burnt in a massive pallet fire under I-10 Freeway overpass at 1700 block of East 14th Street on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Fire Engine 17, sitting under the 10 Freeway overpass on East 14th Street, was scorched in the massive pallet fire. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A mile-long section of the 10 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles that was damaged in a devastating fire over the weekend will remain closed indefinitely until repairs can be made, posing major traffic challenges for the region, officials said Sunday.

Caltrans expects to complete its investigation into the origin of the fire about 6 a.m. Monday and that will allow structural engineers to do a more in-depth assessment of the damage to the freeway's columns and bridge deck, Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a joint news conference with Mayor Karen Bass.

Until this is done, it is unclear how long repairs will take and the freeway will be closed. About 300,000 vehicles pass through the freeway corridor daily.

“No reason to think this will be over in a couple of days,” Bass said.

Officials urged commuters to stay home, avoid the area or use public transit while work continues on the freeway.

Newsom declared a state of emergency Saturday night to help speed cleanup and repair of the freeway and said that work on the roadway would continue nonstop until it is reopened. Bass said Sunday that she has also talked with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg about any additional resources that may be needed.

The fire was reported early Saturday morning, shortly after midnight, in the 1700 block of East 14th Street after a pallet yard under the freeway caught fire and spread to a second pallet yard, damaging the freeway overpass and destroying several vehicles, including a firetruck, authorities said.

Westbound and eastbound lanes of the freeway between Alameda Street and Santa Fe Avenue were subsequently closed, said Lauren Wonder, a Caltrans spokeswoman.

"I would encourage people to avoid this area between the East L.A. interchange and Alameda Street," she said.

Saturday evening, Bass said she had "directed all city departments to immediately plan for how to address increased traffic due to this closure to best mitigate the impact on Angelenos. We will continue to urgently coordinate with our state partners to resolve this issue for not only the millions who use this freeway, but also for those who live and work in the surrounding areas."

Los Angeles fire officials said firefighters from 26 companies and one helicopter responded to the fire and kept it from spreading into nearby commercial buildings. Heavy equipment operators were also used to move debris around and allow firefighters to douse small pockets of fire.

A firefighter is silhouetted under the smoky overpass.
Firefighters douse the still-smoldering pallet fire under the 10 Freeway overpass Saturday. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power also assisted by boosting water pressure in the area to compensate for the high volume needed.

Fire officials said that the fire forced several homeless people to evacuate the area and that vehicles parked under or near the freeway were damaged or destroyed. Officials said one of those vehicles was a fire engine.

The fire was extinguished as of 10 a.m. Saturday.

Wonder said hazmat teams are waiting on firefighters to finish mopping up the area and will head in to ensure that it's safe for structural engineers to go in and assess the extent of the damage to the freeway.

"We see what we call 'concrete spalling,' which is chips of concrete that come off, but we won't know the extent of the damage until the structural engineers can go in and see if the rebar was burned or not," she said. "This is still developing."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.