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L.A. Central Library fire, 25 years later. Share your memories


Photo: Fire Capt. Don Sturkey probes damage after devastating fire in Central Library on May 1, 1986. Credit: Boris Yaro / Los Angeles Times


Talk back LA Twenty-five years ago Friday, on the morning of April 29, 1986, smoke detectors began sounding at the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles. When firefighters arrived minutes later, it seemed like a false alarm. Then they began spotting smoke. In the end, what turned out to be a major fire inside the 1926 building took more than 350 firefighters from 60 firefighting companies to put out.

The effort was made particularly hard by the library's crowded stacks, according to an account by the Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Society & William Rolland Firefighter Educational Institute. "It created an ideal scenario for fire, as the building was literally stuffed to the ceiling with combustible materials," the account states.

It took all day, but the fire finally was declared a knock down after seven hours and 38 minutes.

Destroyed were 400,000 volumes, 20% of the library's holdings. Many more had suffered major smoke and water damage.

In a statement at the time, Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Engineer and General Manager Donald O. Manning called the blaze "one of the most challenging structure fires in the history of the Los Angeles Fire Department."

A later investigation determined that the fire had been intentionally set.

Do you remember the library fire? Did you see it? Did you pitch in to help after it was put out? Share your memories here.

-- Nita Lelyveld



Photo: Fire at 5th and Grand, L.A. Central Library. There were three firefighters injured with steam burns. Credit: Jack Gaunt / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (4)

I am a library staff member for a different library system. I clearly remember the day of the fire. I & some of my fellow staff members pitched in & volunteered 2 Saturdays.

I think of it like the kind of heart break you never get over, the kind that makes you wince every time you recall the pain. I remember the sight of the white smoke pouring out of the patents room and the sick smoky smell of the building when they let us back in. To this day when I walk through the periodicals pool and smell a whiff of one of the charred volumes it makes my heart sink. To think all that misery was created by one sick fool who hated everything good in the world.

I was in downtown LA when the fire started. At first, there was a whole lot of smoke following with a number of sirens from the fire and police department. It was really surreal. I will never forget that day.

In that bottom last photo with all the fire trucks on 5th, what building is that in the center of the photo, back on what appears to be the corner of 5th and Grand...? Isn't that where the Biltmore is situated? Its not the Gas Tower... sorry, I just noticed that and its seems like a building either being torn down or built most likely.


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