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DaVinci Apartment Complex, Los Angeles, CA
Date: December 8, 2014
Project Description:  The 526-unit apartment building had 1.3 million square feet of floor space, with five stories of wood framing over two stories of concrete.   
Building Status:  Under construction

Summary of the fire event: A seven-story apartment building under construction, known as the DaVinci, was a complete loss after fire that was fueled by five stories of wood frame construction.  More than 250 firefighters were dispatched to the scene, including crews from Fire Station 3 located near the burning structure.
Flames were visible for miles while ash rained on a large area and snarled rush-hour traffic.  The collapse of scaffolding and the structure’s wooden frame forced the closure of northbound Harbor (110) Freeway to the northbound 101 Freeway until 10 a.m. The northbound 110 Freeway to the southbound 101 remained partially closed well into the morning commute..

Capt. Steve Tufts oversaw a fire engine that responded to the blaze from an LAFD station on 51st Street in South Los Angeles.  "When you got that bare wood. It burns. It burns good," he said. (http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-downtown-fire-20141209-story.html#page=1)

“You have a building that’s basically a pile of wooden sticks. When you get a fire going it’s going to take the whole building out,” said John DeHaan, a veteran forensic fire scientist. “It’s like fighting a wildland fire: All you can do is slow it down until it runs out of fuel.”  (http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-downtown-fire-prompts-probe-20141212-story.html)
Computers and cubicles melted in neighboring buildings. Hundreds of thick windows cracked. Palm trees were ignited. Intense heat damaged fiber-optic cables beneath a downtown freeway and melted one of the signs. Homeless people were roused from their sleep blocks away.


There was $10 million in estimated losses in the razed structure, and in testimony to the intensity of the fire and heat, at least four nearby buildings were also damaged.  The Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith building at 221 N. Figueroa St., where the computers and cubicles melted, had significant damage on its 15 floors, with 300 windows blown out.   Three floors were also damaged in the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services building at 313 N. Figueroa. LA Department of Water and Power staff identified at least 160 windows, mostly on the west side of the John Ferraro Building, that were cracked.    Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety spokesman Luke Zamperini said windows blew out in the north tower of its department headquarters, and the heat and smoke triggered sprinklers that soaked carpets and desks.

Caltrans officials said an exit sign over the 110 Freeway melted and would have to be replaced, forcing another freeway closure later this week. The department's fiber-optic lines below the pavement that monitor traffic flow and speeds may also have to be replaced, Caltrans spokesman Patrick Chandler said.  He said the agency estimated the fire caused $1.5-million damage to the freeway. (http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-downtown-fire-20141209-story.html#page=1)

This suggests that very large wood framed buildings such as the DaVinci not only present fire danger to themselves, but to nearby fire-resistant buildings as well. And that… the city should demand, via its building codes, that such buildings be designed to be more fire-safe. (http://www.lamag.com/citythinkblog/early-takeaways-da-vinci-complex-fire/)

Observations of Los Angeles Fire Department Battalion Chief:

It burned especially well because the wood framing of the building "is probably the most flammable configuration of fuel you can have ... it's like kindling."  LAFD Battalion Chief David Perez.  
“It went up FAST. Perez says a firefighter had driven by the site at 1:05 am that morning and hadn't seen anything burning, but he estimates about 80 percent of the construction site was on fire by the time firefighters arrived on the scene shortly after the call came in at about 1:20 am. (Fire Station #3 at First and Fremont Streets is less than half a mile away).”

Perez adds, “It's lucky that the fire happened at night on the under-construction building because if someone had been inside, "the probability of their survival would've been zero." (http://la.curbed.com/archives/2014/12/9_weird_facts_about_fighting_downtowns_massive_da_vinci_fire.php)

Links:   http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-downtown-fire-prompts-probe-20141212-story.html
Video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfyGI1jA8dI