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Ex-Marine arrested in Valley fires served time for arson in Japan

Los Angeles City arson investigators at the scene of a motor home fire in the 7300 block of Farmdale Avenue.

The man arrested Tuesday for allegedly setting nearly two dozen fires in North Hollywood is a former Marine who served time behind bars in Japan after setting fire to multiple restaurants and bars on Okinawa.

A decade ago, the fires outside the U.S. military facility in Okinawa received great publicity in Japan and further strained relations between local residents and U.S. military personnel.

Los Angeles police arrested Kurt K. Billie, 34, early Tuesday after he was seen setting fire to a small mobile home around 4:30 a.m. in the 7300 block of Farmdale Avenue in North Hollywood.

Billie is believed to have set at least 19 fires in that area since mid-July, including a dozen fires over a three-day span, according to law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation.

Most of the fires were set to vehicles in carports and spread to nearby structures along Lankershim Boulevard between Burbank Boulevard and Saticoy Street.

Billie was tried and convicted in a Japanese court after being found guilty of burning seven restaurants and bars on Okinawa in two separate arson attacks in January 2001 when he was a 24-year-old Marine lance corporal stationed at Camp Hansen.

At the time, the case compounded the strain between the U.S. military and Okinawa residents over a series of crimes involving American service members. stationed on the island. Locals depend on the base for jobs but feel it is intrusive. The U.S. military has discussed relocating the base, but it is not yet clear where.

After the July fires, the LAPD assigned undercover officers to track down a suspect. Last week, investigators saw Billie with a flammable liquid and lighter but did not catch him in the act of starting a fire.

But later, police saw him go to a motor home near his residence early  and set fire to it.

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-- Andrew Blankstein (Twitter: @anblanx)

Photo: Los Angeles City arson investigators at the scene of a motor home fire in the 7300 block of Farmdale Avenue. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

 
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