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Hollywood arson spree: Suspect may set fires as game, expert says

December 30, 2011 |  1:46 pm

The rash of arson fires in Hollywood and West Hollywood could have been the act of a thrill-seeker, one fire expert said Friday
The rash of arson fires in Hollywood and West Hollywood could have been the act of a thrill-seeker, one expert said Friday.

Robert Rowe, a Long Beach-based fire investigator with nearly 30 years of experience, said that in cases like these, what motivates an arsonist varies: They may be out for revenge, psychologically troubled or hungry for attention. For repeat offenders, he said, sometimes it's a search for a thrill.

"It becomes a kind of game to see how many more they can light until they finally get caught," Rowe said.

Until Friday, the most recent high-profile serial arson case occurred this past summer in North Hollywood when nearly two dozen fires were set over the course of two weeks. Most of them were ignited in cars in carports. A few spread to nearby structures.

An ex-Marine was arrested and charged in those incidents, which sent two people to the hospital for smoke inhalation. He is being on $2 million bail and has a court hearing scheduled for Jan. 23.

Los Angeles Fire Department officials on Friday acknowledged that the new string of fires was "highly unusual."

"As units were responding to one fire, they heard dispatchers describing other fires," Los Angeles Deputy Fire Chief Mario Rueda said. "We've had nights like this where there were three or four -– someone was driving or walking around and setting [a series] of fires, but not something where they were targeting the community to this extent."

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Hollywood arson spree: Cars make easy fire targets, expert says

-- Esmeralda Bermudez and Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Firefighters battle a blaze in the 1400 block of North Poinsettia Place that started in the carport and spread to the apartment structure. Credit: Shawn Kaye

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Hollywood arson spree: Ruin, wreckage at Jim Morrison's former home

 Hours after an arson fire damaged the former home of Jim Morrison early Friday morning, the smell of smoke still hung heavy in the air.

A woman, identified by neighbors as the current owner, was seen moving some belongings and several bags of trash from the badly burned home at 8021 Rothdell Trail to a nearby truck. 

Firefighters first received reports of a car fire at 2:38 a.m. By the time they arrived, flames had destroyed a Mazda Miata and damaged a Ford Expedition, officials said. The fire then spread to a balcony near where the cars were parked and to other parts of the house, they said. 

Sandy Gendel, who owns Pace restaurant a few yards from the blaze, said he heard the sounds of explosions. He said he later learned it was the tires popping from the extreme heat.

Police are investigating the blaze as one in a string of deliberately-set vehicle fires in West Hollywood and Hollywood overnight. 

Residents in this canyon community are accustomed to the threat of wildfire, so when a bright orange glow was seen coming from the home, they sprung into action.  Neighbors went door to door, screaming for sleeping residents to evacuate. 

Kelly Smith, 24, and her boyfriend, Kelly Stevens, 25, said they were asleep when the commotion jolted them awake. The couple left through a side door but returned to grab a some personal belongings. Their home was not damaged.

Smith said they retrieved a laptop and a cheap "New Jersey mall ring" her grandmother gave her in the third grade.

"It wasn't traumatic, but it was sad," she said.

The shell of the burned cars remained outside Morrison's former home Friday morning, resembling junkyard scraps. Nearby, a large sign notified neighbors and passersby that the area is under 24-hour surveillance

Authorities said video security cameras may provide clues to solving the rash of arsons.

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Hollywood arson spree: Cars make easy fire targets, expert says

-- Ari Bloomekatz and Angel Jennings

Hollywood arson spree: Fires are 'highly unusual,' official says

Carport fire
Los Angeles Fire Department officials on Friday described a series of 19 arson fires overnight in the Hollywood area as "highly unusual," adding that the blazes tested the department's resources.

Los Angeles Deputy Fire Chief Mario Rueda said that within 90 minutes of the first blaze, after four or five others had been reported, officials realized they had a big problem on their hands: These were not random fires; they were the work of an arsonist.

"This was highly unusual," Rueda said. "As units were responding to one fire, they heard dispatchers describing other fires."

MAP: Hollywood arson fires

Rueda said fire officials quickly called in Los Angeles police and extra arson investigators. Police were put on a citywide tactical alert.

They began mapping the fires and trying to sequence the events -– all with the intent of figuring out where the arsonist or arsonists would move next, he said.

Instead of simply putting out fires, additional crews were brought in to secure crime scenes. It was a night, he said, of managing chaos.

"This is the worst I've seen in a while," Rueda said. "We’ve had nights like this where there were three or four -– someone was driving or walking around and setting [a series] of fires, but not something where they were targeting the community to this extent."

The first call came in at 12:25 a.m. at 7763 Romaine Street in West Hollywood, officials said. A vehicle was engulfed in flames in an underground parking garage adjacent to an apartment building.

Three minutes later, a caller reported a similar blaze at 1047 Genesee Ave., according to authorities.

Then at 12:34 a.m., firefighters were called to another underground garage at 7702 Lexington Ave., where three vehicles were burning. The building sustained exterior damage, officials said.

While firefighters were battling those blazes, officials said, a call came in at 12:44 a.m. about a car fire four blocks away from the last fire, at Hawthorne and Curson avenues.

A fifth blaze, another car fire, was reported at 1:02 a.m. at Spaulding Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. Then at 1:22 a.m., firefighters were called to a house fire caused by a burning vehicle at 2000 N. Laurel Canyon Boulevard, authorities said.

At 2 a.m., firefighters were called to a car fire at 2472 Jupiter Drive. Ten minutes later, another call came in concerning a burning car at 1226 Harper Ave. in West Hollywood.

Then, within a 20-minute time frame, six more burning vehicles were reported: at 2:34 a.m. at Yucca and Vine streets, at 2:35 a.m. at 1769 North Orange Drive, at 2:38 a.m. at 8021 Rothdell Trail, a three-car fire at 2:39 a.m. at 1156 N. Cahuenga Blvd., at 2:44 a.m. at Hollywood Boulevard and Bronson Avenue, and at 2:54 a.m. at Lexington Avenue and Cahuenga Boulevard.

Meanwhile, firefighters from various fire stations were pulled in to help contain the blazes. The arson teams of the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department were also brought in.

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Rose Parade: Volunteers put in long hours to finish floats

Sandee Verry was covered in purple statice flower petals and operating on only a few hours of sleep, but she could not keep the smile off her face.

After decades of watching the Rose Parade on television, Verry was behind the scenes at Pasadena’s Rose Palace, helping decorate the parade’s banner float. It was something she’d flown in from Palm Harbor, Fla., to do. 

“I’ve watched this parade every year since 1959, and it’s just fascinating even to be cutting flowers,” said Verry, 65. “I’ll put in whatever hours they need.”

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Verry is one of thousands of volunteers this week to put the final touches –- flowers -- on the Rose Parade’s more than 40 floats. Volunteers have come from across the country and are armed with thousands of gallons of glue, scissors and even blenders, where flowers are shredded into a fine powder to be glued onto the floats.

“We’re basically human ink jet printers,” said Verry’s son, Jeff, 37, of Pasadena.

The Verry family has been working on the Wells Fargo banner float, the first float in the parade, which will display the parade’s theme: Just Imagine. Sandee, Jeff and his wife, Teresa, cut purple flower petals that will be used for the pajamas of the young boy depicted on the float.  

Lynn Gast of Mission Viejo has spent the last 22 years as the chairwoman of the Petal Pushers, a group of mostly Lutheran volunteers who decorate the Lutheran Hour Ministries float and others.

“This is kind of a family tradition,” said Gast, who had two daughters working as crew chiefs on different floats.

There’s a sense of pride for volunteers in being able to point to a float and have some ownership over the parts they helped decorate, Gast said. The hours are long –- sometimes 7 a.m. until after 11 p.m. –- but the volunteer work is something she and her family look forward to every year.

“This is Christmas and New Years for us,” Gast said. “It’s kind of a way of life.”

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Photo: Volunteer Sarah Crespo applies glue to the stars on one of the Rose Parade floats under construction on Thursday.  Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

 

Hollywood arson spree: 'Your building is on fire'

Hollywood arson fires
Aaron Krugliak was asleep about 4 Friday morning when the ring of his phone startled him awake.

"Your building is on fire," said one of Krugliak's tenants in an apartment on Poinsettia Place, just south of Sunset. "You might want to get over here."

Krugliak jumped into his car for what should have been a 10-minute drive down Laurel Canyon Boulevard. But the trucks of firefighters battling another blaze presumably set by the arsonist had blocked the narrow street.

MAP: Hollywood arson fires

When he finally arrived at the simple, two-story building he's owned for five years, firefighters were still working to put out the flames.

"No injuries, thank God," he said Friday morning as he took a long drag on a cigarette and watched as a cleaning crew tossed the charred-remains of some window blinds out of the window of an upper-floor apartment.

The fire was started in the car port behind the building, most likely in one of the vehicles parked there. The melted, skeletal frames of two cars and a SUV sat completely ruined on metal wheel rims since the rubber tires had melted.  The charred roof of the wooden car port had collapsed inward.

"You'll probably have to demo the whole thing," an insurance adjuster told Krugliak.

Flames jumped across from the cars and port to the main apartment building, igniting the back two units. Their windows had blown out from the heat, littering the pavement with glass fragments. A city-issued recycling bin nearby was melted shut. By morning, workers had nailed plywood boards over the windows to prevent lookiloos and reporters from peering inside.

His tenants, Krugliak said, were awakened to the popping and crackling sounds of the fire raging outside their windows and did not see who set it.

Krugliak added that he had no reason to think he or his tenants had been a target of the arsonist or arsonists, but simply had the bad luck to be in the fiery path cut across Hollywood and West Hollywood. "Nineteen fires in a night, and we were just one of them," he said.

RELATED:

Authorities probe link to earlier blazes

Jim Morrison's "Love Street" home damaged

Hollywood arson fires: LAPD on alert after string of 19 incidents

-- Joel Rubin in Hollywood

Photo: Suyapa Herrera looks from the window of her burned apartment at 1156 N. Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood on Friday. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Hollywood arson spree: Cars make easy fire targets, expert says

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