It took 365 firefighters, eight of whom suffered minor injuries, to fight the 14-hour weekend blaze
By Gary Walker
Arson specialists with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have been called in to assist with the investigation of a fire that rampaged through the Extra Space Storage facility in Venice over the weekend.
A total of 365 firefighters were dispatched to fight the intense 14-hour blaze at 658 Venice Blvd. that began around 7:30 p.m. Saturday and was brought under control at just before 10 a.m. Sunday, Los Angeles Fire Dept. spokesman Brian Humphrey said.
Eight Los Angeles city firefighters were hurt battling the blaze — three treated at the scene, five treated at a local hospital for injuries that were not life threatening and released Sunday, Humphrey said.
“It was a difficult fire because the firefighters had to cut through steel doors and concrete structures” in order to battle fires that had broken out in individual storage units, he said. “This was a major emergency fire.”
On Tuesday, members of the ATF’s National Response Team carried buckets of debris from inside the building and packed them into vehicles.
Carlos Canino, special agent in charge of the ATF’s Los Angeles field division, declined to say whether the request for assistance meant that arson was suspected.
“All cases are serious. The reason the national response team was called in is because this is a safe haven for people to put their belongings. We want to find out if this was an accident or if it was intentional,” Canino said. “We’re trying to dig through debris right now and hopefully find the origin of the fire.”
Investigators with the L.A. Fire Dept.’s arson section were on the scene Monday. “We’re going to be putting a game plan together to try to determine the cause of the fire,” arson investigator Robert Nelson said at the time.
Venice resident Casey Massimino, 25, said she was at a former art gallery next door to the storage facility when she heard fire engines arrive at the scene on Saturday.
“It seemed surreal,” said Massimino, an Otis College student who stored art projects and furniture at the facility. “I just moved out of my apartment and I had my stuff there for about a month.”
Humphrey said one-third of the 8,100-square-foot building’s units were damaged in the blaze but firefighters saved two-thirds of the storage units, though total damages were yet to be tabulated.
Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin visited the scene of the fire on Sunday and was impressed with the department’s response.
“A deputy fire chief told me that the fire was so intense they had to rotate the firefighters out every 20 minutes. That’s why it took so many of them to fight this fire,” Bonin said.
The smell of smoke still lingered in the air on Monday as Massimino and others who rented storage space milled around near the cordoned-off building, hoping to find out what happened with their units.
Nelson told a crowd that no one would be allowed in the units for at least a few days while investigators work to determine the fire’s cause.
“That’s the first thing that I’ve heard that makes sense,” said Per Hallberg, who was waiting outside the storage facility with several others.
Hallberg’s wife, Holly, stored merchandize from her Abbot Kinney Boulevard store — Huset, a Scandinavian modern design shop — inside the facility.
“All of my Christmas items are in there. If there’s water on them, they’re gone,” she lamented.
Architect Robert Thibodeaux, whose office is next door to the storage facility, has been storing personal items at Extra Storage, including family photos and many of his father’s record albums.
“I’m sure it’s all been torched,” he said.
Salt Lake City-based Extra Space Storage released a statement that it would provide on-site assistance to customers as soon as investigators cleared company workers to enter the building.
In a phone interview, Extra Space Storage spokesman Jeffrey Norman said the company “encourages all tenants to purchase insurance” policies that they offer or from a third-party insurer.
“He didn’t allay my anxiety, but I know that they’re doing the best that they can,” Holly Hallberg said.