South LA residents displaced by massive fireworks blast allowed to return home

Some of the families who were forced to evacuate from their South Los Angeles homes when a massive explosion occurred more than a week ago, were allowed to finally return home Thursday.

"It's been a rollercoaster," said one of the residents seeing their homes for the first time.

On June 30, police attempted to detonate a cache of illegal fireworks that were seized from a local home but during the detonation a massive explosion occurred, damaging multiple structures and injured more than a dozen people.

The blast displaced about 75 individuals.

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Representatives of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives met with residents to brief them on their investigation into the blast before clearing them to return to their homes to assess the damage, said Dedee Verdin, a spokeswoman for City Councilman Curren Price Jr.

Price’s office has led efforts to help the affected families, putting many up in hotels and providing vouchers for food and clothing. 

Some residents may not be able to immediately move back into their homes, depending on the extent of damage caused when Los Angeles Police Department bomb experts tried to destroy the seized fireworks. Police said they believed some of the materials were too unstable to transport, prompting the decision to detonate them in a containment truck.

James Westbrooks, Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of District Operations for Price's office, says they are hoping to reopen the street by Friday. Any family that can’t go back home will still get assistance to stay at a hotel.  


The blast, however, destroyed the truck and caused a massive blast radius, damaging multiple homes in the neighborhood and injuring 17 law enforcement personnel and residents. The damage extended at least a half-block from the blast, and at least two homes were red-tagged as uninhabitable.  

Residents described the blast as similar to the earthquake. It broke windows, caused trees to fall and caused structural damage to homes and businesses, Verdin said. Residents who still can't return home will be able to remain in hotel rooms provided to them, Verdin said. She said more than 50 people in 10 families have been utilizing the resource while others stayed with friends and relatives.

Authorities have said about 32,000 pounds of fireworks were being stored at a home on East 27th Street. The resident, Arturo Ceja III, 27, was charged with illegally transporting tons of explosives. He appeared in federal court in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday, and his bond was set at $25,000. He is
set to be arraigned Aug. 2.

Courthouse sketch of suspect Arturo Ceja III. (FOX 11)

Prosecutors said Ceja purchased most of the explosives from a dealer in Pahrump, Nevada. In addition to the commercial fireworks, the initial search of Ceja's residence led to the discovery of over 140 other homemade fireworks – typically referred to M devices of varying sizes -- as well as explosives- making components, including hobby fuses that matched the fuse on a homemade
mortar shell wrapped in tin foil discovered inside the residence, according to a court affidavit.

Despite the charges against Ceja, some residents and activists have been demanding accountability from the LAPD, suggesting the agency should face penalties -- and possibly even criminal charges -- for detonating the materials in a residential neighborhood.