LA County Seeking Millions in Fire and Cleanup Costs from Warehouse Owners

Los Angeles County and the State of California have filed suit against the owners and lessees of a warehouse that burned last year in a fire that created an environmental disaster that displaced thousands of residents. The suit filed last week seeks to recover millions that were expended in fighting the fire and cleaning up the hazardous materials.

The fire began on September 30, 2021 in a building owned by Liberty Property, LP., and leased to various tenants including Virgin Scent Inc. and Day to Day Imports Inc. Liberty Property’s parent complaint, Prologis Inc., as well as individual owners of the tenant companies were named as defendants in the suit.

The suit alleges the defendants were in violation of numerous fire code and hazardous material laws, had been cited by the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and failed to take appropriate steps to mitigate the hazards. Quoting from the complaint:

  • On the afternoon of September 30, 2021, millions of pounds of highly flammable hazardous materials (hand sanitizers, anti-bacterial wipes, and other commercial flammable products), illicitly stored in the outdoor yard of the warehouse distribution facility… ignited, causing a massive fire on the Property.
  • During the ensuing firefighting effort, which lasted several days, enormous quantities of these hazardous materials and waste discharged into the storm drains on and near the Property, and eventually flowed into the Dominguez Channel.
  • The hazardous materials, which contained alcohol-based chemical substances, including, but not limited to, ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, benzoic acid, benzyl alcohol, and benzene, caused a chemical and biological reaction in the Channel waters releasing large amounts of hydrogen sulfide gas, and its characteristic foul odor, into the air.
  • Within days of the Fire, thousands of residents in the city of Carson and surrounding areas sensed a pervasive foul odor, reminiscent of rotten eggs and sewage, causing those residents to feel sick, and to suffer from nausea, vomiting, irritation of the eyes, skin, and throat, and headaches.
  • The foul odor lingered for weeks and created a public nuisance in a portion of the city of Carson and nearby areas, causing thousands of impacted residents and families to temporarily relocate from their homes.
  • The Fire, the discharge of hazardous materials and waste into the storm drains, and ultimately into the Channel, and the resulting massive release of hydrogen sulfide gas should never have occurred.
  • Defendants… knew months in advance of the Fire that the hazardous materials illicitly stored at the Property posed a severe fire risk.
  • Defendants had the ability to abate the fire risk and violations of law on the Property, but failed to do so, despite the Fire Protection District of Los Angeles County’s regulatory orders requiring them to immediately do so.

The complaint alleges the defendants are liable under numerous state and local regulatory laws, as well as for creating a public nuisance, negligence and trespass. Here is a copy of the complaint. It includes numerous photos from fire and the recovery efforts.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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