Los Angeles-Area Businesses Blamed for ‘Fruitland Fire’

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Some 330 current and past residents of the Los Angeles suburb of Maywood sued the owners of a recycling center that exploded into flames last year, causing a fire that spewed smoke, ash and dangerous heavy metals into the air for many hours.

Named the “Fruitland Fire” for the recycling plant’s location on Fruitland Avenue, the blaze began June 14 last year at a metal recycling facility operated by metals storage company Pacific Machinery Moving Inc. and recycler Panda International Trading Co., both defendants in the lawsuit.

The fire produced “a thick plume of toxic smoke” filled with “copper, lead, zinc, cadmium, nickel and chromium, among other toxins” that spread over the area southeast of Los Angeles, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

It “created a public health emergency” for everyone in the region, say the residents, led by Hermila Chavez Toscano.

“The toxins, pollutants and noxious odors being released into the air and water are causing extreme and varied harm to plaintiffs and other residents in the nearby community,” they say.

The source of the fire may have been 10,000 pounds of magnesium.

Exacerbating the problem, when firefighters aimed their hoses at the scene, the magnesium exploded, according to the residents and news accounts from the time. The water sparked what the lawsuit describes as “fireballs” and “some very violent, ferocious explosions.”

The county fire department eventually put out the fire on June 16 by using “a rare, dye chemical extinguishing agent” to smother the flames.

The lawsuit also names Sokor Metals, a neighboring precious-metals recovery company that also burned, and three individual defendants, Da Xiong Pan and Yan Ping Su, who owned Panda International Trading, and Sokor’s owner, Ashoor Koriel.

Pan, also known as Daniel Pan, and his company Panda were convicted of six felonies in September for violating California hazardous waste laws. Pan was given one day in jail and 1,000 hours of community service. The company was ordered to pay more than $53,000 in restitution.

Attorneys for the defendants, Salvatore Coco of Duarte and the Los Angeles law firm Yacoubian & Powell, did not return calls Thursday asking about the lawsuit.

The residents’ attorney, Jude A. Akubuilo, also could not be reached.

Akubuilo’s complaint appears to be nearly identical to one filed on Oct. 25 by James C. Pettis of Pettis Zimmer in Los Angeles. That complaint, Aquino v. Pacific Machinery Moving, lists the same defendants and 131 residents as plaintiffs.

For instance, both the October lawsuit and the new lawsuit say that the federal Environmental Protection Agency began hazardous waste removal from the fire site in mid-October. “The cleanup activities are expected to last approximately eight weeks and may cost up to $3 million,” both complaints say.

Pettis did not return a call about the new lawsuit Thursday.

At the time of the fire, some 300 people in the area had to be evacuated. About 3,100 lost electrical power for a time, the lawsuits say.

In general, many residents “have suffered and continue to suffer from serious personal injuries and disruption to their personal lives and businesses,” the plaintiffs say.

Some lost their homes because of the toxins and smoke. Many others claim they “have been experiencing symptoms associated with the fire and release of toxins, including headaches, nosebleeds, wheezing, sneezing, insomnia, sore throat, nausea, allergy symptoms and/or dizziness, as well as general fear, stress and discomfort.”

They say they suffered economic damage from time lost from work, damage to their businesses and reduced property values.

“Although the explosive chemical fire was eventually put out, the injuries suffered by plaintiffs and nearby neighbors affected by it continue to accrue due to defendants’ inexcusable neglect for the safety and health of the community. defendants caused the fire and failed to comply with applicable safety standards and regulations,” the residents say.

They seek compensatory and punitive damages for negligence, nuisance, trespass, conversion, emotional distress and other causes of action.

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