For more than a decade, Rudy Serafin showed up to his makeshift office underneath the 10 Freeway as the sun came out and the roar of the morning commute shook the ground below his feet.
With a generator, his cellphone and a portable toilet, the 49-year-old immigrant from Michoacán, Mexico, worked alongside a dozen others operating small businesses in spaces they rented between the concrete columns holding up the interstate. They were mechanics, truckers, garment suppliers, recyclers and pallet distributors, struggling to get by in the region’s economy. They paid rent to a Calabasas businessman who leased the land from Caltrans and, according to court records filed by the agency, illegally sublet it to them at far higher rates.
On Saturday, many of the renters’ dreams went up in the pallet-fueled inferno that caused such severe damage to the freeway that it is expected to be closed for weeks.
While officials say the cause of the fire was arson, many who worked there, with no fire alarms or sprinklers, say it was a disaster years in the making.