(The Center Square) – Los Angeles needs to do more to protect critical infrastructure from fires like the one that devastated Interstate 10, one city council member says.
The I-10 is now reopened, but its closure since November 11 left the city in gridlock as drivers overwhelmed alternative routes. While the fire was arson and near a homeless encampment, it’s not known yet who started the fire.
LA Councilwoman Traci Park, who represents much of the city’s Westside neighborhoods, has introduced several motions for consideration by city council to protect the city from fires.
“Fires in and around our critical infrastructure, our very high fire severity zones, and our environmentally sensitive areas risk major loss of life and essential assets,” LA Councilwoman Traci Park, who represents much of the city’s Westside neighborhoods, said recently. “That’s why I’m calling for an inventory of the City’s critical infrastructure and proposed changes to our local laws that would better protect these areas.”
The first motion orders the city to compile an inventory of critical infrastructure for people and goods, including freeway overpasses and underpasses, bridges, train tracks, tunnels, and other similar projects. The second orders the Los Angeles Fire Department to create a report on the number of encampment fires that have occurred underneath freeways in the city in 2023 thus far, while the third orders the city attorney to report on potential amendments to city laws that can be made to protect critical infrastructure, high-risk fires zones, and environmentally sensitive areas.
Lastly, Park invoked the city’s anti-camping ordinance to ban encampments around one underpass under the I-10 in her district where 12 fires have occurred.
While the I-10 fire hasn’t been directly connected to an encampment, some have used the fire to point to a broader trend of homeless encampment fires.
“Regardless of the fire’s source, the city’s failure to enforce the fire code and clear homeless encampments of dangerous debris clearly contributed to the incident,” Venice Neighborhood Council Member Soledad Ursua wrote in a column for City Journal. “The streets that eventually caught fire were once adorned with tents and makeshift plywood structures, resembling Third World shanty towns. Cardboard, refuse, and debris were piled up ten feet high, with rolled-up carpets, soiled mattresses, and other materials strewn across the streets.”
Ursua cited the Los Angeles Fire Department’s budget spending approximately $427 million of its $854 million total on homeless-related fires. She also cited a 2021 analysis from the Los Angeles Times that found more than half of all fires LAFD responded to were associated with homelessness, meaning the department responds to more than 24 homeless-related fires every day. Arson-related fires – or those started with “willful or malicious burning or attempting to burn” – accounted for a third of LAFD fires and are often started by the homeless. With the city’s arson clearance rate at 6%, many of the city’s worst offenders remain free to continue setting more fires.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection issued a crime alert on November 18 for the I-10 fire suspect, who remains at large. The initial cost of repairs to the I-10 is estimated to be $3 million, which will be covered by federal funding.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass has yet to unveil any plans for preventing more homeless-related fires in the future. Bass’s office did not respond to a request for comment.