The firefighters realized something was wrong inside the building in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday night.
Fire Chief Ralph M. Terrazas said at a news conference that the heat and smoke pressure were both escalating.
Some firefighters entered on the ground level while others climbed a ladder to try to ventilate the roof.
There was a rumbling, high-pitched sound, and a call was made for everyone to evacuate.
Then came an explosion that shot flames and smoke into the sky and set multiple buildings ablaze.
Capt. Erik Scott, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, said firefighters had to “go through a fireball” as they came down the ladder, describing it as if walking through “a 30-foot-tall blow torch.”
The fire was so intense that the firefighters’ personal protective gear was charred and their helmets partially melted, he said. Chief Terrazas, quoting eyewitnesses, said that firefighters “came down from the aerial ladder from the roof with their turnout coats on fire.”
The blaze, which injured 12 firefighters, happened at a building that was home to SmokeTokes, which on its website describes itself as a distributor and wholesaler of smoking and vaping products.
SmokeTokes is a supplier for manufacturers of butane honey oil. The process of extracting honey oil, which is a concentrated THC from marijuana, involves the use of butane, a flammable, odorless gas that is illegal in California, officials said.
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SOURCE: The New York Times, Adam Popescu and Aimee Ortiz