17 Are Wounded After Seized Explosives Blow Up in Los Angeles

The explosion happened during what was supposed to be a controlled detonation of improvised explosives that the police had confiscated from a residential property, the authorities said.


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Seventeen people, including 10 law enforcement officers, were wounded on Wednesday when part of a cache of improvised explosives blew up in South Los Angeles during what was supposed to be a controlled detonation by police bomb squad technicians, the authorities said. One man was taken into custody and charged.

The blast happened around 7:37 p.m. local time, after the officers had loaded less than 10 pounds of the explosives inside a bomb squad containment vehicle, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. The explosives had been confiscated from a nearby residential property, where the authorities said they had found more than 5,000 pounds of illegal fireworks.

The vehicle was torn apart in the explosion, which was caught on camera by at least one television news helicopter as it sent a shock wave through the neighborhood.

At a news conference on Wednesday night, Chief Michel Moore of the Los Angeles Police Department said that the city’s bomb squad technicians are some of the most highly trained in the world, and that it was too early to determine what went wrong.

“What happened behind me tonight, by the grace of God, we did not lose any of them or anyone else, but I’m committed, and we’re committed as a city, to learn from this, and that’s what we intend to do,” Chief Moore said. “Clearly, what happened here is a failure.”

Three civilians suffered moderate injuries and another three suffered minor injuries, the Los Angeles Fire Department said in a statement late Wednesday. Nine police officers and one agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives suffered minor injuries. One other person was hurt but was not taken to a hospital. No deaths were reported. Eight or nine families in the neighborhood were displaced after the blast, officials said on Wednesday night.

Around noon on Wednesday, the authorities received an anonymous call reporting fireworks at the rear of a home in the area of East 27th Street and San Pedro Street, the authorities said. Fireworks are illegal in the City of Los Angeles.

“We understand that this explosive material was acquired out of state and transported here for the purposes of reselling it to community members and neighbors for use during this Fourth of July holiday,” Chief Moore said.

After removing the fireworks to a “safe location,” some improvised explosives were located, the Fire Department said. There were 40 containers that resembled soda cans and about 200 similar canisters that were smaller, according to Chief Moore, who said that bomb squad technicians took X-rays of the materials and used a robot to cut into some of them. Some of the material was placed in the containment unit, near the back of the bomb squad truck. A video on Twitter later showed the parked truck exploding on a residential street, sending debris into the air and damaging nearby cars.

Several surrounding homes were evaluated by the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, the Fire Department said.

Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles said on Twitter on Wednesday night that he was monitoring the situation and that he was “deeply concerned” for those who were wounded.

“I’ve directed the LAPD to conduct a full investigation into this incident, so we can better understand why this happened,” he posted.

The man who was taken into custody, Arturo Cejas III, was charged with possession of a destructive device. He was being held on $500,000 bail, said William Cooper, a public information officer with the Los Angeles Police Department.

Mr. Cejas’s 10-year-old brother was taken from the home where the fireworks were found and placed with the Department of Children and Family Services, Chief Moore said, adding that the authorities were seeking additional charges for child endangerment.

City officials on Wednesday had held the first fireworks buyback program in an effort to curb illegal fireworks. People could anonymously surrender fireworks in exchange for gifts.

Monica Rodriguez, a councilwoman for the Seventh District, said on Facebook that fireworks could not only inflict physical harm and trauma on people and pets, but that, during fire season, they could also pose a threat to public safety.

In March, two people were killed when a cache of commercial-grade fireworks exploded in a home in Ontario, Calif., about 35 miles east of Los Angeles, causing at least $3.2 million in damage to surrounding properties, local news outlets reported.

Just days before the Fourth of July, officials in Los Angeles have urged residents to report illegal fireworks to the authorities and to attend only professional displays.

“Tonight is a clear demonstration of the true and clear and present dangers that fireworks in this city pose when you have underground operators, sellers that gather this material, store it in an unsafe and dangerous fashion, exposing entire neighborhoods to the real risk of a loss of life,” Chief Moore said.

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