LOS ANGELES – Explosions and fire tore through a block of industrial buildings in South Los Angeles early Wednesday, hurling shrapnel and fist-sized chunks of molten titanium that injured three firefighters.
The metal was inside a company that manufactures titanium golf clubs and it "rained down in a huge fireball of sparks and burning shavings," Fire Department Battalion Chief Mario Rueda said. "It was unbelievable."
The blaze on East Slauson Avenue was reported at 11:43 p.m. Tuesday in a block-long complex of structures. It tore through six buildings, causing millions of dollars in damage, Rueda said.
At its peak, about 220 firefighters battled the blaze. Titanium stacked inside one building exploded when it was hit with water from fire hoses, Rueda said.
Two huge blasts at about 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. showered firefighters with jagged and molten bits of titanium, he said.
A firefighter suffered ringing ears from one blast and two others were burned, Rueda said. One firefighter had minor injuries and the other was taken to a hospital for observation with more serious burns on the back of his neck.
Shrapnel hit some fire equipment and shattered the windows of a sedan where fire commanders were gathered, Rueda said.
"It was absolutely amazing that there weren't more injuries," he said.
Burning titanium creates its own oxygen that feeds the flames, Rueda said. Some of the material continued to smolder Wednesday morning and fire crews were allowing it to burn itself out, he added.
The complex probably will be a total loss, Rueda said.
The cause of the fire was not immediately determined.
Another fire last month damaged a building across the street that has the same owners, Rueda said. That fire ignited in a scrap yard containing titanium shavings and the cause was accidental, he said.