Early afternoon Sept. 12, billowing smoke catches the attention of passers-by near Third and San Pedro streets in Little Tokyo. (Photo by ELLEN ENDO)

Rafu Wire Service and Staff Reports

Fire gutted a three-story commercial/office building in Downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, with flames shooting through the roof of the structure, forcing fire crews into a defensive posture as they worked to douse the inferno.

The fire broke out just after 1 p.m. in the third floor of the building in the 300 block of East Fourth Street, between San Pedro and Wall streets, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Crews initially made their way inside, but they were forced into a defensive mode, with all firefighters pulled out of the building as the flames spread throughout the 5,000-square-foot structure, with smoke ultimately pouring from lower-level windows in addition to the roof. Fire crews instead poured water onto the blaze from the exterior, using ladder trucks to soak the flames.

When the wind shifted northward, the smell of smoke drifted through Little Tokyo and traveled as far as Olvera Street near Chinatown, creating a haze in the atmosphere.

“I thought our building was the one on fire,” stated one office worker in El Pueblo.

A worker in a high-rise building near First and San Pedro streets said the smell of smoke was so intense that she decided to leave in the middle of the day and work from home.

Flareups could be seen periodically. From the Teramachi condominiums at Third and San Pedro, residents observed firefighters working well into the night until 9:30 or 10 p.m.

“The fire quickly started to spread and there was structural compromise, at which point the incident commander evacuated all firefighters off the roof and out of the inside of the structure, taking a defensive posture,” Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Capt. Adam VanGerpen said.

This photo was taken about five hours after the fire broke out. (TOMOKO NAGAI/Rafu Shimpo)

It took 150 firefighters to bring the fire under control and prevent it from spreading to any other structures.

Fire officials said there was “dense storage” inside the building on the second and third floors, helping to fuel the flames. The building has commercial space on the ground floor, and what was originally planned as office space on the second and third floors, fire officials said.

It was unclear if anyone was inside the building when the fire broke out.

There were no immediate reports of any injuries.

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