The fire crews had gone inside the complex in the city’s Toy District after an initial report of a fire, but then had to run for their lives when a ball of flames exploded out of the building and scorched a fire engine across the street.
Some of the firefighters escaped with minor injuries but others were more seriously burned, and three are said to be in a critical condition. All those injured are expected to survive.
Los Angeles fire chief Ralph Terrazas said one of the firefighters inside the building felt things did not seem right.
He directed everyone to get out, and as they started exiting the building it was rocked by the explosion.
Los Angeles Fire Department captain Erik Scott said “one significant explosion” occurred at about 6.30pm local time on Saturday.
Firefighters inside the building at the time had to run through a wall of flames he estimated to be 30ft high and wide, and those on the roof scrambled down a ladder that was engulfed in fire.
He said people at the scene described the explosion as sounding like a freight train or jet engine.
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The fleeing firefighters tore off their protective equipment that had burned and helmets that had melted, Mr Scott said.
“[It] was one of the worst scenes I’ve seen,” he said.
More than 200 firefighters ended up rushing to the scene, as the flames spread to several nearby buildings.
Mr Scott said the site of the explosion was a warehouse for Smoke Tokes, which he described as a maker of “butane honey oil”.
Butane is an odourless gas that easily ignites, and it is used in the process to extract the chemical THC from cannabis plants to create a highly potent concentrate also known as hash oil. The oil is used in vape pens, edibles, waxes and other products.
On its website, Smoke Tokes advertises a wide variety of products, including “puff bars”, pipes, “dab” tools, vaporisers, “torches and butane”, and cartridges. – AP
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