Over 100 firefighters battled a “city-block-sized” fire that destroyed multiple homes in South Los Angeles early Tuesday, displacing families and injuring at least three people, fire officials said.

Around 3:20 a.m., crews responding to the 1500 block of East Vernon Avenue in Central-Alameda found an apartment building under construction engulfed in flames and downed power lines, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. Neighboring residents were awakened and told to evacuate as firefighters defended the surrounding buildings.

A 66-year-old man and a 64-year-old woman were taken to a hospital for serious burns, and a 30-year-old man was evaluated at the scene but declined to be taken by paramedics for further treatment, according to authorities.

A woman in a mask carries a dog and walks next to a boy wrapped in a blanket with fire trucks in the background

Nearby residents were evacuated due to the massive fire, which spread to seven other buildings, five of them a total loss.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Seven buildings were damaged in the fire, and five are considered a total loss, the Fire Department said. The American Red Cross and the Los Angeles Emergency Management Department are assisting 17 people whose homes were destroyed.

It took 140 firefighters 78 minutes to put out the fire, with some firefighters from the Los Angeles County Fire Department called in to assist.

Arson investigators are on the scene as part of the city’s protocol for structure fires, but the cause of the fire is still under investigation and it’s not clear when authorities will make a determination, LAFD spokesperson Margaret Stewart said. The blaze tore quickly through the open-sided wooden frame of the building that was under construction.

“When you have a building that’s in the framing stages, it’s going to burn hot and fast because you have all of the wood exposed and nothing stops; there’s no compartmentalization,” Stewart said. “There’s nothing that stops the flame so it goes up very hot, very fast, which then exposes anything that’s around it.”

Gerardo Diaz, 30, heard his father screaming in the early morning. That’s when he saw the flames outside their home.

Diaz dragged his father, whose mobility is limited from a previous stroke, out of the house.

“When we came out the door, we already had the flames on our porch,” Diaz said after the fire was put out. “I don’t know — it’s just like a blink of an eye. All of a sudden it burned down.”

Half of the house burned down and his truck was damaged, Diaz said, but he was grateful that his family was able to escape relatively unharmed. “The heat was so hot,” his 12-year-old niece, Kimberly Erendira, said.

Raymon Chaidec, 58, woke up around 3 a.m. to booms and yells outside his house. He looked out the window and saw an out-of-control fire towering above the utility poles on his street.

“It was way up there, even taller than the poles that you see are now burned,” he said, motioning his hands to the sky.

Chaidec raced out of the house with his daughter, and they watched from their driveway as the fire engulfed the construction site across the street and encroached onto their property.

“We were ready to run,” he said. “We were scared when we saw the fire get a little close to our house, but nothing was damaged. We are so, so lucky.”

Aaron Vazquez, 28, heard explosions and felt his home vibrating. He looked out the window and saw orange, but didn’t think it was a fire.

“I thought it was an ambulance,” Vazquez said. “I look out the kitchen window and all I see are flames. There were dogs in the back, from the neighbors in the back, that were whimpering and crying.”

Firefighters spray water on a smoldering pile of timber from a collapsed construction framing

Firefighters douse the smoldering wreckage of the apartment building that was under construction.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Vazquez was able to get his family out of the home but went back inside for his cat. Intense heat radiated from the fire burning next door as he searched for his cat, which he eventually found.

“It was a huge inferno,” he said.

Vazquez’s home was not destroyed, but he thinks there was some water and smoke damage. The sides of adjacent homes were burned from the heat that radiated off the fire at the construction site.

Several hours after the fire started, neighbors watched from the sidewalk as crews demolished the ruins of the building that had been under construction. A bulldozer knocked over the remaining charred wooden planks to prevent any of the wood from smoldering, LAFD Capt. Carlos Caceres said, after crews convinced city officials that the building was beyond repair.

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