News Midday Update: Firefighters extinguish major blaze in downtown LA; home foreclosures set record in first quarter; Continental Airlines to cut 3,000 jobs, capacity

A fire engulfed a two-story building in the downtown Garment District early today, gutting a labyrinth-like collection of small stores and sending flames and smoke pouring through the roof.

Nobody was in the building at the time and no injuries were reported, authorities said.

The fire broke out shortly before 5 a.m. About 175 firefighters extinguished the blaze at 6:42 a.m., fire spokeswoman d’Lisa Davies said.

About 10 stores shared the first floor of the building and the second floor was storage space, Fire Battalion Chief Ron Villanueva said.

‘‘The garments were in there. There was a lot of retail (clothing) businesses,’’ he said.

Conditions facing firefighters inside were ‘‘maze-like,’’ Fire Chief Douglas Barry said.

However, Davies said the buildings in the area did meet building and safety codes.

The cause of the fire was not immediately determined but arson investigators went to the scene.

Associated Press

Home foreclosures set record in first quarter

Home foreclosures and late payments set records over the first three months of the year and are expected to keep rising, stark signs of the housing crisis’ mounting damage to homeowners and the economy.

The latest snapshot of the mortgage market, released today, showed that the proportion of mortgages that fell into foreclosure soared to 0.99 percent in the January-through-March period. That surpassed the previous high of 0.83 percent over the last three months in 2007.

The report by the Mortgage Bankers Association also found that more homeowners slipped behind on their monthly payments.

The delinquency rate jumped to 6.35 percent in the first quarter, compared with 5.82 percent for the three months earlier. Payments are considered delinquent if they are 30 or more days past due.

Both the rate of new foreclosures and late payments were the highest on record going back to 1979.

Associated Press

Continental Airlines to cut 3,000 jobs, capacity

Continental Airlines said today it is cutting 3,000 jobs and reducing capacity by 11 percent, citing record fuel costs that have pushed the industry into its worst crisis since 2001. It also said its two top executives will forgo pay for the rest of the year.

The job cuts represent about 6.5 percent of the company’s work force of 45,000.

Houston-based Continental said it will begin pulling back on flights in September, when departures on its mainline operations will drop about 16 percent below September 2007 levels. Fourth-quarter capacity will fall 11 percent.

Shares of Continental rose 68 cents, or 4.7 percent, to $15.18 in the opening minutes of trading.

The company also said Chairman and Chief Executive Lawrence Kellner and President Jeff Smisek will not take salaries or incentive pay for the rest of the year.

Last year, Kellner got a salary of $712,500 and total compensation that the company valued at nearly $6 million, down 9.3 percent from the year before, according to an Associated Press analysis of a company filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Associated Press


— The Bibb County school board will gets its first glimpse of the 2009 fiscal budget starting at 5:30 p.m. We'll let you know what they learn.

— A section of Interstate 16 will be dedicated to entertainment legend Phil Walden at noon. Come back to our Web site for complete coverage, including photos and video.


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