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Arson was the likely cause of a fire that damaged an artery of LA freeway

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Investigators here in LA say arson likely caused the massive weekend fire that has indefinitely shut down a major freeway through downtown Los Angeles. City, state and federal officials are working around the clock to get the 10 freeway back up and running for the some 300,000 people that use it every day. Until then, drivers are bracing for significant delays. Here's LAist reporter Makenna Sievertson.

MAKENNA SIEVERTSON: At the burn site Monday afternoon, construction crews and heavy machines were working through the piles of charred wooden pallets under the 10 freeway. At a press conference there, Governor Gavin Newsom said the preliminary investigation shows there was, quote, malice intent behind the fire.

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GAVIN NEWSOM: That it was arson and that it was done and set intentionally. That determination of who is responsible is an investigation that is ongoing.

SIEVERTSON: The space under the freeway where the fire started was being leased to a local company by Caltrans - the California Department of Transportation - and its federal partners. Newsom said the state has been legally tangling with that company for months. He said they had stopped paying rent and were subleasing the site under the freeway illegally to at least five other tenants. Newsom says officials are going to take a very close look at all of the leases on lands Caltrans owns to make sure they're in compliance.

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NEWSOM: The magnitude of this crisis suggests a sober review and reflective review of the lease terms.

SIEVERTSON: City and state officials still don't know when the damaged stretch of freeway will be able to open again. Newsom said preliminary structural samples came back more positive than expected, but they need more test results to decide if the damaged stretch can be repaired or if it will need to be demolished and completely rebuilt. There were 16 unhoused people living nearby, but LA Mayor Karen Bass says the city needs to be united as we wait for more answers and not scapegoat.

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KAREN BASS: There is no reason to assume that the reason this fire happened was because there were unhoused individuals nearby.

SIEVERTSON: Newsom encouraged the community to help find whoever is responsible for the massive fire by calling a confidential line with any potential tips or information about the incident. LA residents are also being asked to work from home if they can or take public transit if they need to get around downtown.

For NPR News, I'm Makenna Sievertson in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Makenna Sievertson