It took 115 firefighters just over two hours on July 24 to extinguish a massive commercial fire on West Pico Boulevard opposite Chabad’s Bais Chaya Mushka Girls School. Margaret Stewart of the Los Angeles Fire Department said that investigators found evidence of a possible drug operation in the building.
Firefighters responded to a call at around 11:30 a.m. on Friday morning at 9041 West Pico Blvd. The commercial building that currently appears to be for lease had a Pico Bais Midrash sign on the front of the three to four story building. According to KTLA News, students were evacuated from a nearby school.
KTLA also ran a live feed of the fire, which showed dozens of fire trucks and police cars rushing to the scene and thick, black smoke billowing from the building. Under the live feed one woman posted that there was a day camp being held inside and her daughter was attending. She wrote in the post that it was a camp with “social distancing measures.”
Local community member Shlomo Walt told the Journal the mixed commercial/apartment building used to house the nonprofit charity organization Tomchei Shabbos, and was the original location of the Pico Shul.
Rabbi Chaim Cunin, CEO of Chabad of California told the Journal the Chabad school used to be housed in the building that caught fire until 2004. The school moved when a replica of Chabad N.Y.’s 770 building was constructed next door. Cunin confirmed that there was a small summer camp operating on the premises when the fire broke out. He said, “Thank God no one has been injured. The school was unscathed.”
Adiel Nahmias, owner of Holy Grill at 8975 West Pico Blvd. told the Journal he was working when he smelled the fire.
“We thought that we somehow forgot something on the grill or the stove but there was nothing there so we went outside and we saw extreme amounts of black smoke and it smelled like fire mixed with marijuana,” he said, adding, “I’m not sure what happened but we’re hoping that everything gets under control and that whoever is affected will be able to rise back from this situation. Everyone is so sweet around here and most have been around for many years while some people and businesses are a little newer. Regardless, it’s hard enough as it is for everyone dealing with all the effects that 2020 has brought so far. We will all stay positive in our thoughts and actions and we will continue to pray for everyone as we do daily.”
Around 1 p.m. the building’s roof partially collapsed and firefighters were concerned that the entire building could be consumed. By 1:45 p.m. the fire had been extinguished. LAFD issued a statement saying that “after a long defensive battle, firefighters made good progress and are now working to hit any remaining hot spots. No other structures were damaged.”
The statement reported that there was a single-family dwelling “to the rear of the fire building with an elderly couple at home. A rescue ambulance stayed with the couple and sheltered inside their home to ensure they were safe from any smoke exposure. There was no fire risk to the structure but extra caution was taken to ensure their well-being due to smoke. No smoke was present in the home and the couple did not require medical care.”
The statement also noted that one firefighter was taken to the hospital with a nonlife threatening heat related illness. LAFD also noted that one of the operations firefighters conduct at a structure fire is called salvage and entails “removing or otherwise protecting contents of a structure, as best as possible, from suffering damage during an emergency. This usually happens inside of a home; however, at this incident firefighters took the initiative to cover three vehicles with tarps. The cars were right in the middle of the fire ground and would likely be dinged or damaged in some way.”
LAFD’s arson and counter-terrorism section is still conducting its investigation into the cause of the fire.
Journal Managing Editor Kelly Hartog contributed to this report.
Smoke from the fire at 9041 W. Pico Blvd. Photo: Nili Isenberg
Additional reporting by Journal Managing Editor Kelly Hartog