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LA fire chief seriously burned in explosion in downtown sues building owners, vape shops

LA fire chief seriously burned in explosion in downtown sues building owners, vape shops

Members of the Los Angeles Fire Department are investigating the site of an explosion in downtown Los Angeles in May 2020. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles Fire Department firefighter caught fire in an explosion in May 2020 inside an downtown LA warehouse, suing the owners of the building and a vaping store located there, accusing them of dangerous activity, premise liability and negligence.

Victor Aguirre and his wife, Claudia Aguirre, on Wednesday filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against property owner Steve Sungho Lee and his various businesses, along with the operators of Green Buddha and Smoke Tokes, a smoke and vape store inside the East 3rd Street warehouse. where the explosion took place. Twelve firefighters were injured.

After a criminal investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Los Angeles Police Department, they were charged with more than 300 criminal offenses.

The lawsuit alleges that Victor Aguirre, a 20-year veteran of the fire department and father of two, suffered catastrophic injuries in the explosion, including severe burns to large parts of his body and “devastating third-degree burns” on his hands. The burns resulted in so much damage that each of his fingers had to be partially amputated, and he has since undergone 25 surgeries. He was hospitalized for two months and has been able to return to the fire department in an administrative capacity.

Aguirre, according to the suit, has been permanently disfigured, handicapped and left with a lifetime of pain and suffering. The suit accuses the warehouse owner and operators of the vape shops of violating the law, storing large quantities of dangerous material in an illegal and unsafe manner, maintaining them in an “extremely dangerous condition” and negligently summoning Aguirre and other firefighters to the scene.

The business owners “negligently laid an explosive mixture of hazardous materials. They are to blame for the terrible damage that Mr Aguirre and the other 11 firefighters suffered,” said attorney Patrick Gunning, representing Aguirres.

The blast occurred in a part of the center nicknamed “bong row” due to the concentration of retailers selling rolling paper, butane and other supplies related to steaming, tobacco and extraction of THC into marijuana vape cartridges. Those in the legal cannabis industry say many of the stores on 3rd, Boyd and Wall street supply butane and other goods in bulk to unlicensed cannabis distributors.

In a report, the fire department determined the “excessive amount” of nitrous oxide and butane containers inside the Smoke Tokes drove the fire to, damaging several other properties. The report also revealed that the LAFD had failed to inspect the building for at least a year before the explosion. Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas has acknowledged that an inspection would likely have resulted in the seizure of many of the materials that fed the explosion.

In the lawsuit, Gunning claims firefighters believed they were battling a “routine ventilation with limited structural fire,” but minutes after entering, heard a “popcorn-like” noise that quickly escalated before a “jet-like rumble.” Aguirre, who was on top of the roof, was last out of the building; the huge explosion engulfed him and other firefighters as they scrambled up a ladder on a fire truck.

Video and still images captured Aguirre engulfed in flames as he headed down the ladder after the explosion.

None of the defendants named in the case could be reached for comment.

In November, the owners of two smoking and vaping supply stores entered into a prosecution deal with prosecutors urging their businesses to pay more than $ 100,000 to the city.

As part of the agreement with the law firm in Los Angeles, the Smoke Tokes and Green Buddha must pay the Los Angeles Fire Department about $ 127,000 to compensate the agency for the investigation.

In addition, Raheel Lakhany and Shafaq Sattar, who each owned one of the companies, agreed to cease operating at the scene. Their companies did not request competition against four violations of the municipal regulations that involved improper storage of flammable materials and other violations of fire regulations.

Criminal charges against Lakhany and Sattar were dismissed as part of the deal.

There are still charges against building owner Lee.

Times staff writer James Queally contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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