UPDATED: Explosive 4-alarm fire tears through three Santa Fe Springs businesses


SANTA FE SPRINGS >> A massive fire fueled by exploding drums of flammable chemicals destroyed three businesses, comprised of five buildings, in Santa Fe Springs Saturday.
A paint company, an epoxy coating company and a machine shop were involved in the four-alarm fire, which broke out about 4:10 p.m. in the 12800 block of Sunshine Avenue, Santa Fe Springs Fire Department Chief Mike Crook said.
Heavy black smoke and flames poured from the building when firefighters arrived, the chief said. Soon after firefighters began pouring water on the flames, 55-gallon drums full of flammable chemicals began exploding, Crook said.
“They started with a pretty aggressive attack,” he said. “Drums were exploding, they were taking off into the air. They pulled back, had to go defensive.”
The drums were both inside and outside several of the burning buildings.
Firefighters from the Los Angeles County, Downey, Compton and Vernon fire departments helped Santa Fe Springs firefighters douse the blaze for more than four hours before it was declared knocked down. Firefighters expected to remain at the scene handling smoldering hot spots into the early morning hours Sunday.
Hazardous materials crews were on-hand to monitor potential hazards, Crook said. No chemicals were detected at dangerous levels in either the air surrounding the perimeter of the fire or the water flowing away from it.
The fire was believed to have originated inside epoxy coating company B.D. Classic Enterprises, Crook said. It was first reported by a custodian working in the business park.
Crook said the fire then spread to the neighboring Life Paint Co. and Robert’s Honing and Gundrilling Inc.
Police shut down nearby streets as firefighters handled the massive fire, Whittier police Lt. Bryan Ellis said.
All three involved businesses were closed at the time the fire broke out, Crook said.
The neighboring businesses were all largely empty, and No evacuations were ordered during the fire, according to Downey Fire Department dispatchers. No injuries were reported to civilians or firefighters.
Though the building were largely destroyed, firefighters worked hard to protect the businesses’ important documents, Crook said. “The guys did a great job of protecting the offices and the records.”
The investigation into the cause of the fire remained in its early stages. A dollar-value estimate of the damage was not available late Saturday.

PHOTO by Mike Mullen

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Serial bank robbery suspect arrested after lengthy chase from Santa Fe Springs to Rialto


SANTA FE SPRINGS >> A man who led police on a wild chase from Santa Fe Springs to Rialto that lasted more than an hour is believed to be a serial bank robbery linked to nine heists and attempted heists in Orange and San Diego counties, authorities said.
Stephen Richard Bartlett, 53, was arrested on suspicion of numerous crimes following the chase, which began about 10:15 a.m. outside a Santa Fe Springs steel business, Whittier police Lt. Bryan Ellis said.
Following his arrest, which took place after he crashed a stolen 1-ton utility truck off the side of the 219 Freeway in Rialto, investigators determined that Bartlett is a suspect known to the FBI as the “Hills Bandit,” sought for eight bank robberies and one failed bank robbery since may, Ellis said.
Bartlett was taken to a hospital to be treatment for minor injuries suffered in the crash before being booked on suspicion of felony theft, felony evading, vehicle embezzlement and two counts of hit-and-run, police officials said in a written statement. The parolee, who has an address listed in Nevada, was also being held on several warrants, including ones for bank robbery.
Thursday’s chase began when officers responded to Fry Steel Co., 13325 Molette Street, about 10:15 a.m. after receiving a report of a possible fraud involving the purchase of $12,000 worth of steel by a man later identified as Bartlett.
“As the suspect left the business with the product in the back of a 1-ton stake truck, Whittier Police officers arrived and attempted to make a traffic stop,” according to the police statement. But the truck continued on, and the driver threw what was later found to be a replica handgun from the truck.
The truck led officers through Santa Fe Springs, Whittier, La Habra and Break before getting onto the westbound 60 Freeway, where Whittier police turned the pursuit over to the California Highway Patrol.
The pursuit continued west on the 60 Freeway, with the truck driving erratically and at times on the wrong side of the road as it made its way onto the westbound 210 Freeway.
The fleeing truck collided with a CHP car and a civilian vehicle during the chase, resulting in minor injuries to a CHP officer and a civilian, CHP Officer Bruan Alvarez said in a written statement.
After well over an hour, the truck struck the right shoulder wall along the 210 Freeway in Rialto and went out of control before striking a dirt embankment and overturning, Alvarez said. Bartlett climbed out of the truck and surrendered to officials.
The most recent crimes attributed to the “Hills Bandit” occurred Sept. 8, when he robbed a Laguna Niguel U.S. Bank branch and tried, but failed, to rob a La Jolla Union Bank, according to FBI spokeswoman Emily Yeh.
He previously robbed a San Diego Cal Bank & Trust on Aug. 25; a Laguna Niguel Wells Fargo on Aug. 22; a Laguna Hills U.S. Bank on Aug. 8; a Carlsbad U.S. Bank on Aug. 5; A Lake Forest Citibank on July 25; a Laguna Hills Citibank on July 16; and a Laguna Hills Wells Fargo on May 6, FBI officials said.

*PHOTO: The “Hills Bandit,” is pictured in this surveillance photo during a robbery at a Union Bank in San Diego on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. The suspect, linked to nine bank robberies and attempted bank robberies, was arrested Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014, after a lengthy police chase that led from Santa Fe Springs to Rialto. (Courtesy of the FBI)

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Whittier police launch motorcycle safety enforcement campaign

The Whittier Police Department had begun a month-long extra enforcement campaign aimed at improving motorcycle safety and reducing the number of injuries and deaths caused motorcycle crashes, officials said.
Throughout July, extra officers will be on patrol, focusing their efforts on areas frequented by motorcycles and where motorcycle crashes are known to occur, Whittier police officials said in a written statement.
“Officers will be looking for violations made by drivers and riders alike that can lead to motorcycle crashes,” according to the statement. “ They will be cracking down on both those operating regular vehicles and motorcycles that are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, speeding, making illegal turns or any other dangerous violation.”
In Whittier and Santa Fe Springs, five fatal motorcycle crashes and 87 injury motorcycle crashes have occurred withint the past three years, officials said.
Funding for the campaign is being provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Police car struck by alleged DUI driver in Santa Fe Springs

SANTA FE SPRINGS — A Whittier Police Department officer has been hospitalized with minor injuries after his vehicle was struck by an alleged drunken driver early Saturday in Santa Fe Springs, officials said.
The 12:40 a.m. occurred in the intersection of Florence Avenue and Orr and Day Road, California Highway Patrol Officer Monica Posada said.
It was initially believed to have been caused by a woman who ran a red light in a Ford Focus, striking the patrol car, CHP Officer Francisco Villalobos said.
The eastbound Whittier cruiser on Florence was struck by a southbound Ford Focus in the intersection, Posada said. The impact then pushed the cruiser into a collision with another vehicle.
The drivers of all three vehicles were transported to hospitals, Posada said.
The officers injuries appeared to be minor, amounting to bumps and bruises, Whittier Police Sgt. Jason Zhulke said. No significant injuries were reported to the occupants of the third vehicle that the police car was pushed into.
The alleged DUI driver suffered more serious injuries, including a broken leg. She was arrested at a hospital, where she was being treated. Her identity was not available.

– Staff and wire report

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UPDATED: Firefighters battle massive blaze at Santa Fe Springs recycling center

SANTA FE SPRINGS >> A massive and stubborn fire erupted at a Santa Fe Springs recycling center Thursday afternoon and burned through the night, authorities said.
The fire was first reported about 6:20 p.m. at a recycling center in the 14000 block of Marquardt Avenue, Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Cheryl Sims said.
“We received a report of a large outdoor yard fire, with a structure involved,” Sims said.
The business recycles paper and cardboard goods, said Downey Fire Department Capt. Eric Danieri.
AR-140529452Firefighters from throughout the area rushed to assist as the intense five-alarm fire tore its way through the facility, fueled by bales of cardboard, according to Battalion Chief Bruce English of the Downey Fire Department, which handles radio communications for the Santa Fe Springs Fire Department and other nearby agencies.
The fire stubborn fire continued burning beyond midnight and into Friday morning, officials said.
“We increased out personnel due to fire activity and poor access to the cardboard box bales,” English said.
The cardboard bales burned with increasing intensity as they broke apart, presenting more surface area to catch fire.
“It’s very manpower intensive,” English said of the firefighters’ efforts.
Shortly after midnight, firefighters were using a skip loader to remove burning debris, officials said. A tanker truck was summoned to the scene to refuel the fire engines.
More than 100 firefighters from the Santa Fe Springs, Los Angeles County, Downey, Montebello, La Habra Heights, Vernon and Compton fire departments worked to drown the flames.
EP-140529452No injuries were initially reported to civilians or firefighters, English said.
Southern California Edison officials were summoned to the scene to assist with downed power lines, and firefighters requested the trains on a nearby set of tracks at Rosecrans Avenue and Marquardt Street be shut down as the fire continued to burn. Traffic was shut down on both Rosecrans Avenue and Marquardt Street.
Metrolink officials reported Line 608 to Oceanside was stopped at the Norwalk/Santa Fe Springs Station, and 91 Line 707 was stopped at the Fullerton Station, Buses were used to bring passengers to their ultimate destinations.

VIDEO and PHOTOS by Keith Durflinger

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Santa Fe Springs police checkpoint cut short due to rain

SANTA FE SPRINGS — A planned sobriety and driver’s license checkpoint in Santa Fe Springs was cut short over the weekend due to safety concerns created by rainfall, authorities said.
The checkpoint, which began about 8 p.m. Friday night along Florence Avenue just west of Pioneer Boulevard, was originally scheduled to continue for about six hours, Whittier police officials said.
But officers dismantled the checkpoint after about two hours due to the rain and increased safety risk it brought with it, Lt. Bryan Ellis said.
Police screened 665 motorists during the checkpoint and cited four for driving without a license, Ellis said. Three drivers were given field sobriety tests, however none were arrested on suspicion of intoxicated driving.
The checkpoint was funded by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Police plan checkpoint this weekend in Santa Fe Springs

SANTA FE SPRINGS — The Whittier Police Department is planning a sobriety and driver’s license checkpoint late Friday in Santa Fe Springs, authorities said.
The checkpoint will take place from 7:30 p.m. Friday to 2:30 a.m. Saturday at an undisclosed location within Santa Fe Springs, Whittier police officials said in a written statement.
“Over the course of the past three years in the cities of Whittier and Santa Fe Springs, DUI collisions have claimed 4 lives and resulted in 119 injury crashes harming 167 of our friends and neighbors,” Sgt. Rob Hanson said.
Funding for the checkpoint is being provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Southbound lanes of 5 Freeway in Santa Fe Springs to be shut down early Saturday

SANTA FE SPRINGS — Officials plan to shut down all southbound lanes of the 5 Freeway in Santa Fe Springs early Saturday as part of an ongoing construction project, according to Caltrans.
The closure will be in effect from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. on a mile-long stretch of the freeway from Carmenita Road to Valley View Avenue, Caltrans officials said in a written statement.
The Carmenita Road and Alondra Boulevard onramps will also be closed, officials added. Southbound motorists will be directed to exit at Carmenita Road, then re-enter the Freeway at Valley View Avenue.
The connector road from the southbound 605 Freeway to the southbound 5 Freeway will also be closed from 12:01 a.m. to 8 a.m. Saturday.
The same closure is scheduled to take place Monday and Tuesday, officials added.
The construction is part of a $1.6 billion project to widen the 5 Freeway between Los Angeles and Orange counties.

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Overnight closures of 5 Freeway through Santa Fe Springs planned this week

SANTA FE SPRINGS — Work crews plan to shut down all northbound lanes on a 1-mile stretch of the 5 Freeway through Santa Fe Springs overnight Monday and Tuesday.
All three northbound lanes of the 5 Freeway between Valley View Avenue and Carmenita Road will be shut down from 11:59 p.m. Monday to 4 a.m. Tuesday, and again from 11:59 p.m. Tuesday to 4 a.m. Wednesday, Caltrans officials said in a written statement.
Additionally, the Valley View Avenue and Alondra Boulevard onramps to the northbound 5 Freeway will be shut down from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. both days, officials said.
“Motorists travelling northbound I-5 will exit Valley View Avenue and re-enter northbound I-5 at the Rosecrans Avenue onramp,” according to the Caltrans statement.
The closure is to allow for workers to make progress on the ongoing Alondra Boulevard Bridge construction.
The bridge project is part of a larger, $1.6 billion project to widen the 5 Freeway between Los Angeles and Orange counties.

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Norwalk man and woman killed in Santa Fe Springs car crash

SANTA FE SPRINGS >> Authorities Wednesday continued investigating a two-vehicle crash that claimed the lives of a Norwalk man and woman early Saturday.-
The collision took place about 12:09 a.m. Saturday along Norwalk Boulevard at Smith Avenue, Whittier police Officer Brad White said.
Killed were Daniel Mata, 23, and Jazmin Gomez, 19, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Elissa Sleak said. Autopsies determined both died as a result of “multiple blunt traumatic injuries,” and both deaths were ruled accidental.
Mata was at the wheel of a Nissan Sentra that collided with a Jeep Laredo, according to coroner’s and Whittier police officials. Gomez was riding as the front passenger.
A Whittier woman in her late-teens who was riding in the rear of the Nissan Sentra was thrown from the car from the crash. She was taken to a trauma center in critical condition.
Preliminary investigation determined the Sentra was south on Norwalk Boulevard when, for an unknown reason, the car veered toward the right, White said.
The Sentra struck the west curb, “causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle and cross into northbound traveling lanes,” he said.
“It was broad-sided by a Jeep Laredo, travelling northbound, who was unable to avoid the Nissan,” White said.
Mata and Gomez were pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics, White said.
Two people riding inside the Jeep Laredo suffered minor injuries in the crash, he said.
The cause of the crash remained under investigation, however no arrests or citations were initially made, the officer said.
The incident was the second fatal car crash on the same stretch of road in less than three weeks.
Manuel Diaz Campos, 26, of Whittier died in the early-morning hours of Feb. 13 after the Scion he was driving at a high rate of speed crashed into a traffic signal, shearing the vehicle in half, Whittier police and coroner’s officials said.
The Feb. 13 crash remained under investigation.

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