Today in fire history: fire in library destroys estimated 200,000 books

Blog Post created by ryan.quinn Employee on Apr 29, 2012

On April 29, 1986, a fire occurred in the Central Library of Los Angeles, California.  The 400 occupants evacuated the library in about eight minutes without a mishap, but the ensuing fire resulted in a commitment of over 70 pieces of fire apparatus and nearly 350 firefighters, and took 7.5 hours to extinguish.  Fifty-five firefighters suffered minor injuries during fire suppression.

The fire destroyed an estimated 200,000 books, the largest collection of patents in the western United States, and 2/3 of the library’s magazine collection.  In addition, about half of the library’s 1.2 million volumes were damaged by water and smoke.  The area of fire origin was in one of the book stacks and the fire was suspicious in nature. 

The complex arrangement of the large floors prevented firefighters from immediately locating the fire.  The lack of sprinkler protection in many areas, the presence of vertical ventilation and other unprotected openings, as well as the abundant fuel contributed to the severity of the fire.  NFPA members can read the full investigation report for free.