April 29, 2009

Los Angeles, Your Library is on Fire!

On April 29th, 1986, a fire broke out in the Los Angeles Central Library which completely destroyed 400,000 books. The remaining 1.7 millions books were smoke damaged, including 700,000 books which were also water damaged.

Firefighters fought fervently for forever, feuding with the fire, finally forcing it to fade into alliteration. The source of the fire was quickly chalked up to arson, but over 20 years of investigation later we still don't know who actually started it. I feel deep down in my heart that there's at least one retired LAPD officer with every scrap of library fire paperwork piled up at home, post-it notes pasted to the walls running from one end of the house to the other (with lines linking one to the next, circles designating the more important ones), and a divorced wife that just couldn't take it any longer.

Another fire broke out later that year, on September 3, 1986, destroying the contents of the music department. The arsonist in this case was never caught either. Copycat arsonist? Disgruntled librarian? Dismantled Libertarian? Arsonist from first fire? The devil summoned accidentally by somebody playing heavy metal albums backwards?

The work that the firefighters did in the April 29th fire was well commended, and properly so. They were able to save over 85% of the library's contents and the majority of the library's structure itself, through hard work and just doing their job. A prior estimation made by the national experts on library fires, as well as a former L.A. City Fire Department Chief Engineer, predicted a fire of this type in the LA Central Library would result in a complete loss.

Maybe the fire was set by somebody trying to prove the library fire experts wrong. Or, maybe it was the library fire experts themselves seeking to prove themselves right, inadvertently proving themselves wrong. We will probably never know.


  1. I know the score: Team Fire - 2, Team Library Experts - 0 (It was all over in the second quarter, which is when Team Fire had a serious of great dribble drives and finger rolls, which really put the nails in the coffin for Team Library Experts. I'd even say it was in the refrigerator during the first quarter. Yes'sir, the jello was jiggling and the butter was getting hard, and I'd even bet you an ice cream on it).

  2. Nice write-up, except the LAPD doe not investigate fire cause and origin. That task belongs to the LAFD.