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Fires

L.A. Arson Fires: Suspect Under Arrest, LAFD Says

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Mon, Jan 2, 2012 at 12:11 PM

click to enlarge LAPD
  • LAPD
Updated at the bottom with an official arrest (the third since Thursday). Fire officials now count 53 blazes in the arson spree. First posted at 2:48 a.m. Monday.

The L.A. arson fires have sated the city's everlasting expectation for the criminally bizarre, but so far there's no Michael Connelly ending to this 53 55 50-blaze spree.

In fact it appears that the firebug might have struck again overnight as the Los Angeles Fire Department reported a "suspicious" blaze at 1:13 a.m. in the 1700 block of North Laurel Canyon Boulevard. Yep, it was another vehicle-in-a-carport fire that the department seemed to quash before it got ugly. And then there were more fires in Sherman Oaks.

This as the LAPD released video of a person of interest:

It's not a lot to go on: A lump of a man in black with a streetwise gait and what was widely described on Twitter as a Steven Seagal ponytail. He's described as 5 feet, 8 inches to 6 feet, 2 inches tall and was captured on video leaving the Hollywood+Highland complex area following a car fire in its subterranean garage early Saturday night.


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On Sunday authorities initially said at least 39 fires, mostly featuring cars set ablaze beneath apartment carports, had been set in Hollywood, West Hollywood and parts of the San Fernando Valley (mostly North Hollywood) since Friday.

According to an LAFD statement:

At 12:23 AM, on the morning of Friday, December 30th, a series of incendiary fires began in Hollywood. By daybreak, a total of 12 fires had been confirmed in the Hollywood area, and four fires in the city of West Hollywood. These 16 intentionally set fires were located in carports under apartment buildings or near single family dwellings in Hollywood.

A suspect, 22-year-old Samuel Arrington, was in custody after a series of fires broke out Thursday morning, and police told City News Service they believe the man was behind at least two in the series of blazes so far. About four fires raged in the Hollywood area that morning by our count, and sure enough, up until early Sunday night, authorities put the total number of arson blazes at 43.

But since Arrington's been in jail, the blazes have raged on, with reports of more fires cropping up in the early morning hours in the San Fernando Valley early this morning.

Today police told City News Service that four more blazes were reported Monday morning: The Laurel Canyon Boulevard blaze, one in the 8500 block of Eastwood Road, in the Hollywood Hills, one in the 4300 block of Greenbush Avenue, in Sherman Oaks, and one in the 4200 block of N. Sunnyslope Ave., also in Sherman Oaks.

They might be connected to the spree, Det. Gus Villanueva told City News Service.

Early Monday the LAFD's Erik Scott tweeted:

Several auto & structure fires have occurred since 1am in the Hollywood and surrounding areas. Public & Media requested to Remain Vigilant

CNN L.A. correspondent Casey Wian tweeted that 8 cars were hit at 6 locations within 90 minutes in the early morning hours Monday.

That could bring the total number of arson fires to 50.

click to enlarge DAN STEINBERG / AP
  • Dan Steinberg / AP

A joint task force made up of members of the LAPD, LAFD, county sheriff's and fire personnel, and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was investigating the rash of fires.

Local TV reports blared with the news last night that the ATF was sending 30 investigators to help out.

There's a $60,000 reward for information leading to the fire starter(s): Drop a dime at 800-222-8477.

[Update at 3:30 a.m.]: Another fire was reported by the L.A. County Fire Department as "2 cars well involved under a carport" at 529 Alfred St. in West Hollywood after 3 a.m.

click to enlarge The aftermath of the Alfred fire. - @GIGIGRACIETTE
  • @GigiGraciette
  • The aftermath of the Alfred fire.

A "knockdown" of the fire was reported by the department at 3:28 a.m.

Twitter users noted a huge police presence in the area, which is near the intersection of Melrose Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard.


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Some who follow the scanner radio traffic of local first responders surmised that an arson suspect had been moving south from the Valley to West Hollywood.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Laurel Canyon Boulevard had been shut down as part of a dragnet being set up to catch the arsonist(s).

It appeared that a tactical alert for some divisions of the LAPD had been called in response to the early morning outbreak but that it was later canceled. Tactical alerts allow commanders to keep officers on the job after their shifts end.

[Update at 3:57 a.m.]: The L.A. city fire's Erik Scott confirmed via tweet that a person of interested has been detained for questioning but, he said, "It is too early to speculate if this person responsible for spree arson fires."

His statement came after CNN reported via Twitter that someone had been detained, apparently as part of the dragnet set up around La Cienega and Melrose.

[Update at 4:20 a.m.]: A witness told the Weekly's Simone Wilson that the person of interest was detained in an apparent traffic stop outside the Griddle Cafe, which is at 7916 Sunset Boulevard.


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The witness said about 20 deputies swarmed the man who apparently had a ponytail.

click to enlarge The scene outside the Griddle. - ADAM SAPIN
  • Adam Sapin
  • The scene outside the Griddle.

[Added]:Capt. Jaime Moore of the L.A. City Fire Department told CBS2 at 4:30 a.m. that there were 12 arson fires in the L.A. area this morning, including 10 in the city of L.A. and two in the city of West Hollywood.

He described the person of interest at "a middle-aged male."

LAPD Officer Wendy Reyes told the Weekly that despite reports that an arrest had been made, "We're not sure. We don't have confirmation on that."

click to enlarge Another shot of the detention, this one of the minivan apparently driven by the person of interest. - @VENICE311
  • @Venice311
  • Another shot of the detention, this one of the minivan apparently driven by the person of interest.

[Update at 5:05 a.m.]: The LAFD's Erik Scott tweeted the official arson spree tally this morning:

A total of 55 fires of concern have broke out in the Los Angeles area over the last four days from 12/30/11 to 01/02/12. 45 fires in the Los Angeles area, nine in West Hollywood, and one in Burbank.

[Update at 11:12 a.m.]: Advancing a Los Angeles Times report stating the person of interest was in a dispute with U.S. immigration officials, CBS2 news reported that the man's mother had been deported a week ago -- just before the fires began.

The Times said the man is a German national and that the van in the photo had Canadian plates.

The paper also reported that an alert off-duty reserve sheriff's deputy spotted the van in the area -- it had been wanted in connection with the outbreak -- and stopped the man outside a drugstore (a Rite-Aid is nearby) before backup arrived.

CBS2 said an L.A. arson news briefing outside a downtown fire station was scheduled for noon, but City News Service put out a bulletin to media stating no conference had yet been scheduled.

The station stated the man in question fit the description of the person wanted following the Hollywood+Highland blaze -- stocky, wearing black and sporting a ponytail -- and that he smiled when bystanders snapped photos of him.

click to enlarge CBS2
  • CBS2

[Added]: Capt. Moore told the Weekly there is a noon press "briefing" outside Fire Station 4, 450 E. Temple St.

He said no arrest has been made.

However, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck told this to reporters at the Rose Parade, according to City News Service:

I feel very good that we've got the right guy. (The suspect) had the right stuff in his van, and we are very confident we found our man.

CBS2 reported that the van contained charcoal briquettes.

[Update at 11:35 a.m.]: Mayor Villaraigosa weighed in, in part, with this:

I am encouraged by the detainment this morning of a 'person of interest' in Hollywood. While the investigation continues, I am thankful for the ongoing and relentless effort by the LAFD, LAPD and other agencies to respond to these incidents and pursue every lead toward an arrest in the case. I also want to thank Angelenos for their vigilance these past few days and their patience as our public safety agencies worked under extremely challenging circumstances to not only handle the rash of arson fires, but to protect the rest of the City, as well, over the New Year Holiday.

[Added]: Gigi Graciette of Fox 11 News tweeted that sourced told her they don't think one suspect is responsible for the spree: "Copycats suspected."

[Update at 12:08 p.m.]: Capt. Moore told reporters at the noon press conference that the person of interest was placed under arrest after he was interviewed this morning. He said he would be booked on suspicion of 451B of the penal code -- "arson."

LAPD Commander Andy Smith said booking "should occur later this afternoon."

Moore said $2 million worth of damage has resulted from the spree.

The person of interest was stopped shortly after 3 by an on-duty West Hollywood sheriff's deputy around Fairfax Avenue and Sunset Boulevard in L.A.

Another press conference was scheduled for 6:15 p.m.

Moore put the total number of fires at 53, not 55, and not counting the four fires Thursday in which there were two arrests (Arrington and Alejandro Pineda, 55).

Moore broke down the latest, most significant fires:

On Friday there were 16 "car-structure" blazes, including four in Hollywood, 11 in North Hollywood, one in Sunland and one in Burbank.

On Saturday-Sunday there were 8 fires -- six in Hollywood, two in West Hollywood.

This morning there were 11 "car-structure fires, including two in West Hollywood, two in Hollywood and seven in North Hollywood.

He said there were no civilian injuries.

"Multiple search warrants have been authored and served as part of this investigation," Moore said.

While crews remained at the scene of West Hollywood fires following the suspect's 3 a.m. detention, the rash of blazes appeared to stop after that.

[@dennisjromero / djromero@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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