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HomeNewsThe Unfortunate LA Freeway Fire Incident That Destroyed Many Immigrant-Owned Businesses

The Unfortunate LA Freeway Fire Incident That Destroyed Many Immigrant-Owned Businesses

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In a heartbreaking turn of events, a fire broke out near the Los Angeles freeway, causing damage to many businesses run by immigrants. Firefighters rushed to the Caltrans-owned property to try and stop the fire, but unfortunately, it was too late. 

LA freeway gutted by fire /Unmoving vehicles due to a fire incident
Source: Los Angeles Times Good Morning America/ Youtube

Several businesses were impacted, causing the freeway to be entirely shut down. These immigrants migrated from other countries to get better livelihoods for their families, only to have their dreams dashed in the fire.

The Immigrant’s Source of Livelihood

The LA 10 freeway was a special place where different immigrants operated their businesses. Some were from Arabic backgrounds, and others were from Mexico. Having all this diversity was supposed to make the freeway strong.

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A hire fire burning
Source: ABC7/Youtube

Most immigrants were mechanics, truck drivers, pallet distributors, garment suppliers, etc. These hardworking immigrant business owners took to the 10 freeway daily for many years to make money.

The Immigrant Business Owners

Several business owners, including one 49-year-old Rudy Serafin, had established their business there for decades. Serafin from Michoacán, Mexico, always showed up to his makeshift office with his cell phone, generator, and a portable mobile toilet. 

Immigrants checking their stall
Source: ABC7/Youtube

Moreover, he sold hangers, elastics, and wiring to the garment industry. He worked alongside twelve other immigrants underneath the 10 freeway, where they rented spaces between the concrete columns that held up the interstate.

The Landlord Lurking in the Shadows

The Calabasas businessman, Ahmed Anthony Nowaid, is the landlord who was collecting rent from the immigrants. Caltrans primarily leased the property to Ahmed, who operated a company called–Apex. 

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Firefighters trying to stop a fire
Source: ABC7/Youtube

But, according to Court documents, Apex illegally subleased the property to the immigrants at exorbitant amounts. But still, the immigrants continued paying their rent despite the high rates.

The Devastating Fire Incident

Sadly, a fire broke out on Saturday, November 11, 2023, raising these businesses to the ground. Many suspected arson, while some said it was a calamity waiting to happen.

Firefighters using fire extinguishers
Source: KTLA5/Youtube

“I lost everything. We are not educated people. Most of the people are people who crossed the border, worked hard, or maybe grew up here. But we are working-class people. We break our back to barely make a good living,” Serafin told the Los Angeles Times.

Their Leasing Company Refused to Pay the Rent 

Despite that, these immigrants barely scraped by paying their rent to Apex. Apex, on the other hand, has owed the Caltrans rent for over a year. The entire property leased to Apex was a 48,000-square-foot triangular lot at South Alameda and East 14th streets.

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Unmoving vehicles due to a fire incident
Source: Good Morning America/ Youtube

The amount owed as rent for the land was $78,000, and Caltrans took legal action against Apex in September to recover the unpaid rent.

The Properties Were Illegally Sublet

The land in question was one of five that Caltrans was seeking to evict Apex and another Nowaid company from. This included a piece of land by the 5 Freeway in Sun Valley and one close to where the fire incident occurred. 

A place getting burnt down
Source: Good Morning America/ Youtube

Overall, Nowaid had not paid around $620,000 in rent to Caltrans as of September. Caltrans claimed that Apex had gotten leases for government-owned lands but turned around to rent the land to different businesses without permission.

The Land Was Leased for a Different Purpose

Furthermore, the lease was originally meant for parking working vehicles and open storage if Apex needed permission from Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration to use the land for other purposes.

Burnt stalls
Source: Good Morning America/ Youtube

But clearly, Apex didn’t get this permission. Instead, he allowed the land to be used to store hazardous materials, inoperable vehicles, and highly flammable materials. 

The Tenants Were Warned Against Paying Rent to Apex

Additionally, the land lacked basic safety precautions like fire alarms and sprinklers. Due to the constant breaking of rules, the state had planned to evict Apex. Sometime in April, a Caltrans employee was sent to the site to warn the immigrants against paying rent to Apex.

A firefighter spraying water by a burning wall
Source: KTLA5/Youtube

Furthermore, several tenants said they stopped paying rent once they received the order from the court to appear for the lawsuit scheduled for December. 

Fire Incidents Were Reoccuring 

Sadly, these fire incidents were constantly occurring. According to Serafin, fires regularly broke out in homeless shelters around the property, but calls to police or for cleanups were never responded to. 

Different officials on-site
Source: ABC7/Youtube

He and others sometimes paid homeless people $20 to stay clear of their businesses. Caltrans also stated in their court papers that Apex refused to insure the property against fire.

The Community Impact

Unfortunately, the majority of these businesses were not insured, and they lost all of their goods and equipment. One Mexican– Jose Luis Villamil Rodriguez, who ran a mechanic shop on the site, felt hopeless with the situation. 

Firefighters inspecting the area
Source: ABC7/Youtube

He is estimated to have lost $100,000 worth of tools, trucks, and equipment, including a 1970 GMC Camper he recently fixed for $20,000.

A Call for Help

The Norwaid company claims not to know what caused the fire, but the immigrants strongly doubt their words. According to one tenant, Apex had sent one of his workers to collect the payment- “We told him no, you can’t do that. It’s not legal,” he said. 

Under the freeway
Source: Los Angeles Times

But instead of the company threatening to lock the gates as usual, the fire came instead. However, as these immigrants navigate these challenges, there is a call for advocacy and support to ensure their voices are heard. Hopefully, the truth will be revealed soon.

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