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LA County Sheriff's Department cited for deadly shooting range explosion

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department faces hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for safety violations that contributed to an explosion that killed a deputy and seriously wounded another.

It happened inside a mobile shooting range at the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic on Oct. 10, 2023. In total, four people were injured. Two deputies were rushed to the hospital in critical but stable condition. The two others suffered minor injuries. 

Six months after the explosion, one of the deputies, Alfredo "Freddy" Flores, died from the wounds he suffered that day. 

At the time of the incident, a deputy chief with the Los Angeles County Fire Department said "the entire internal content" of the range contributed to the explosion and subsequent fire. Sheriff Robert Luna said his investigators would figure out what sparked the inferno. 

"We don't want this to happen again, so we need to know why it happened and get to the bottom of it so we prevent it from happening again," Sheriff Luna said. 

In a California Division of Occupational Safety and Health report, inspectors outlined five workplace citations related to the shooting range and recommended $301,000 in fines. 

Cal/OSHA issued the first two citations for failing to maintain adequate records of inspections and the lack of an effective procedure to identify workplace hazards, including the accumulation of combustible propellant inside an indoor shooting range.

In the third citation, inspectors claimed that the sheriff's department knew about the unsafe working conditions before the explosion but failed to "take sufficient steps to prevent the re-occurrence of fires in its indoor mobile shooting ranges," according to the Cal/OSHA report. 

The regulatory agency claimed that the final two infractions directly led to the explosion. In the report, inspectors stated that deputies failed to meet manufacturer recommendations to "conduct daily, weekly, monthly, and bi-annual preventive maintenance" on the range. Additionally, the LA County Sheriff's Department allowed the combustible material to accumulate throughout the facility, including on the floors, ledges, beams, equipment and machines. 

The report also described potential hazards at a similar facility located in Downtown LA's Men's Central Jail, including combustible foam. The inspector also said the department misappropriated a HEPA vacuum to collect potentially explosive dust and debris from the range. 

"In the future, dust collectors shall be located outdoors or in a detached room and are not allowed to be used inside the range," the inspector wrote. "In addition, any dust collection system must have adequate explosion vents. This includes the general dust collection system located under the trailer."

The LA County Sheriff's Department appealed the citations, according to Cal/OSHA.

"We are working with County Counsel to evaluate the OSHA violations, but the safety of our personnel is paramount and our primary concern. The investigation into the range fire is currently ongoing," the law enforcement agency wrote in a statement.

Following the Oct. 10 fire, the department closed all of its mobile ranges. 

"We are currently using other law enforcement ranges and our outdoor Wayside range for firearm qualifications," the department stated.  

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