Crime & Justice

5 dead in fire in abandoned Westlake District building

Coroner's officials and firefighters prepare to move one of four bodies found in the burned-out ruins of an abandoned office building in the Westlake District just west of downtown Los Angeles Tuesday, June 14, 2016.
Coroner's officials and firefighters prepare to move one of four bodies found in the burned-out ruins of an abandoned office building in the Westlake District just west of downtown Los Angeles Tuesday, June 14, 2016.
Richard Vogel/AP

Los Angeles firefighters on Tuesday found four more bodies as they searched an abandoned office building the day after it was damaged by a major fire in the Westlake District near downtown, authorities said.

The discoveries raised the death toll to five people. One man had already been declared dead at the scene while the blaze was burning Monday night.

The bodies of two men and two women were found Tuesday afternoon as authorities with a team of dogs searched the second floor of the burned-out building located at 2411 W. Eighth St. near MacArthur Park.

Image from video provided by KCBS-TV/KCAL-TV shows Los Angeles firefighters battling a blaze in an abandoned two-story office building in the city's Westlake District.
Image from video provided by KCBS-TV/KCAL-TV shows Los Angeles firefighters battling a blaze in an abandoned two-story office building in the city's Westlake District.
KCBS-TV/KCAL-TV via AP

All five victims appeared to be homeless, fire department officials said. The bodies were removed from the upper floor with a ladder truck.

Police arrested a suspected arsonist who had been in the building when the fire broke out, authorities said. That man and one other person were taken to hospitals with injuries not considered serious.

It took nearly 150 firefighters more than two hours to extinguish the fire in the green, two-story building that once was home to an acupuncture clinic. The building is surrounded by strip malls and an apartment building.

The area is on the edge of Koreatown, and the signs on the building and many surrounding businesses are in Korean.

The building was officially vacant, but neighbors say they saw homeless people coming and going from it frequently, especially at night.

The structure appeared to be singed and some of its windows were blown out. It did not appear seriously damaged from the outside, but it looked like the inside had been badly burned.

During the blaze, firefighters had to take a defensive stance and fight the fire from a distance because it was too dangerous to get close to the abandoned building with a fire burning so strongly.

"People do tend to live in them, and they tear them up," fire Capt. Daniel Curry said. "Floors are no longer intact, walls are no longer there."