A key portion of Interstate 10 near downtown Los Angeles has been shut down indefinitely following a massive fire early on Nov. 11 beneath the elevated portion of the freeway. 

California Dept. of Transportation (Caltrans) engineers are assessing the structural integrity of about 400 feet of the elevated roadway and are developing a repair plan to reopen the fully closed section. No injuries were reported in connection with the blaze.

“We saw the extensive damage under the freeway,” California Secretary of Transportation Toks Omishakin said in a news conference on Nov. 12. “I’m not going to understate the challenge here. It is significant.” 

Jim Medina, public information officer for Caltrans District 7, told ENR that shoring has been put in place to stabilize the damaged section of roadway and initial tests on the outermost support columns damaged by the fire has begun. 

Omishakin said CalTrans already secured an emergency contract to begin restoration on I-10. “Then Caltrans structural engineers will have a clear and safe path to conduct significant tests,” he says. “Structural engineers will begin more detailed work immediately. Our efforts on this are going to have to be 24-7 to get this roadway back open.” 

The section of closed roadway handles four lanes of travel in each direction through the downtown area carrying more than 300,000 vehicles daily.

Crews were actively working on Monday to brace the roadway as over 100 columns were damaged, with up to 10 severely damaged, said California Gov. Gavin Newsom at a press conference on Monday evening.. The final determination on the construction path forward will be made based on sampling with a focus on safety, not just speed. 

“The worst thing we can do is make a bad short-term decision,” Newsom says about reopening the freeway.

Omishakin says contractors are working to clear hazardous materials and the shoring of the bridge deck allows engineers to continue to collect coring samples. The team is continuing to take concrete and rebar samples from the bridge so engineers can analyze them. 

Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency in Los Angeles County on Saturday to help expedite cleanup and repair work. The proclamation directs Caltrans to formally request assistance through the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Program, if appropriate. 

Also on Saturday, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass spoke with US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who pledged federal cooperation. Federal Highway Administration Administrator Shailen Bhatt was dispatched to the site on Nov. 13 to evaluate damage and help coordinate the response.

LA Interstate 10 Fire

CalTrans engineers have begun evaluating the structural integrity of the damaged highway.
Photo courtesy of Caltrans

The fire, which started in the early morning in a storage yard full of pallets, trailers and vehicles on East 14th Street in downtown Los Angeles, spread to a second yard and eventually covered about eight acres. The bulk of the blaze was extinguished in three hours although crews remained on site through Nov. 12 to handle flare ups, according to officials of the Los Angeles City Fire Dept.

Also on Monday, the state’s fire marshal investigation team determined that the early Saturday fire was set intentionally and is being treated as arson. 

The storage yard was full of debris—including vehicles full of gasoline—which required hazardous materials teams to conduct a cleanup before engineers could safely assess the level of damage to the roadway. 

There is no timetable for reopening the freeway. “There is no reason to think this is going to be over in a couple of days,” Mayor Bass said. “We cannot give you an estimate right now.”