- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A fire that raged overnight on the underside of an old wooden wharf was finally quelled Tuesday but not before all container terminals at the Port of Los Angeles and several in adjacent Long Beach harbor were shut down for most of the day because of worries about unhealthy smoke.

Concern about the plume from burning creosote-preserved timber in the pre-World War II wharf also triggered a precautionary evacuation of a port-area elementary school and advice to residents to stay indoors.

Seven of the eight Port of Los Angeles container terminals were reopened with the 6 p.m. night shift, and the eighth was scheduled to restart work on Wednesday, port spokesman Phillip Sanfield said.

He estimated a few thousand employees, mostly longshore workers, were sent home Tuesday.

At the neighboring Port of Long Beach, all six terminals were open and functioning again after three of them were closed for most of the day, the port said in a statement.

A welding accident Monday evening ignited the 800-foot-long wharf, which has a warehouse running most of its length. The wharf is part of a terminal that processes cargo that isn’t confined to large, stackable containers.

Fireboats spraying water and foam worked with scuba divers and firefighters ashore to contain the bulk of the fire after about 2 1/2 hours, but it continued to smolder Tuesday night, and officials did not know when the final embers would be out.

“This is a very, very difficult fire to fight,” said Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas.

The twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach handle 40 percent of America’s import trade.

The economic impact of the fire was not immediately known and will depend on what kind of cargo was held on the docks. Sanfield said he expected the dollar loss would be minimal because dockworkers have been able to catch up following similar-length disruptions due weather or labor unrest.

The Port of Los Angeles handles an average of about $780 million of cargo each day, and the consequences of delays in moving that much product will reverberate down the supply chain - from truckers who wouldn’t get paid for the day to exporters and retailers whose products won’t show up right on time.

Outside the port, the fire’s main impact came in the form of precautions for potential health impacts from smoke.

Fire and police officials advised residents in the Wilmington and San Pedro neighborhoods as well as the city of Long Beach to remain indoors and keep windows closed.

One parochial school was closed for the day, and students at a public elementary school were bused to another site, said Monica Carazo of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Other schools remained open with outdoor activities suspended.

Terrazas said, however, that hazardous air quality levels were reported only in the immediate proximity of the fire.

___

Associated Press Writers Justin Pritchard and Andrew Dalton in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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