Police Question ‘Person of Interest’ in Los Angeles Arson Fires
Monday, January 2, 2012
Twelve more suspected arson fires broke out early Monday in the Los Angeles area, and a "person of interest" was taken into custody for questioning in connection with the dozens of suspicious car fires that have hit the city since last week.
The developments came a day after police distributed DVDs featuring footage of a man, between 20 and 30 years old with a receding hairline and a shoulder-length ponytail, whom they described as a person of interest. He was seen on grainy surveillance video Saturday after emerging on foot from inside an underground parking structure on Hollywood Boulevard where a car fire was reported.
Fire department spokesman Capt. Jaime Moore said he couldn't say whether the person of interest detained early Monday was the man seen on the video footage. "It's still too early to say whether or not this person has any direct correlation with the number of fires that we've been responding to this evening," Moore said.
No arrests had been made.
Early Monday, firefighters battled 12 suspected arson fires at carports and garages. Ten occurred in Los Angeles and two were in West Hollywood, Moore said. They broke out shortly after 1:30 a.m.
Moore said authorities believe the latest fires were connected to the earlier ones. The number of suspicious fires now stands at 55, he said.
Detectives spent Sunday analyzing security video camera footage and following up on other leads after a half dozen more vehicles were set on fire on New Year's Eve.
The outbreak of arson fires has left a trail of smoldering debris in Hollywood, West Hollywood, North Hollywood and the Fairfax district of Los Angeles since Thursday.
Most of those fires were set in parked cars. In several cases, flames have jumped to carports and apartment units.
A reward of $60,000 has been offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the arsonist.
Detectives served a search warrant at a home in the San Fernando Valley, Det. Gus Villanueva said Sunday. Several interviews were conducted, but no arrests were made.
"They are working on hundreds of clues, interviewing dozens of witnesses, picking up countless pieces of evidence," police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said of the detectives.
Authorities haven't said how the car fires were sparked or what was collected at the crime scenes. They were unsure if the rash of fires were the work of one arsonist or multiple people or copycats.
There have been no injuries.
Extra patrols were out in force on New Year's Eve. One of Saturday's attacks occurred at the Hollywood and Highland entertainment complex, a popular tourist destination and hotspot for holiday revelers. Firefighters responded to a report of a small car fire in a parking structure that was out by the time they arrived.
Firefighters routinely are called to put out burning cars, but this recent spate has been unusual because of the frequency and location of the fires. Crews have been responding to other emergencies despite the focus on solving the fire arsons, fire spokesman Erik Scott said.
Police urged residents to check their cars for any signs of tampering and take simple precautions such as locking their cars, keeping garage and carport lights on at night and reporting suspicious activity.
"We are not going to rest," Los Angeles Fire Department assistant chief Pat Butler said Sunday at a joint police-fire news conference. "We are going to work tirelessly."
Police officials were working with Sheriff's Department detectives, city and county fire investigators and members of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
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