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

April 29, 2011 |  2:32 pm


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