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LAPD sets wide dragnet in L.A. arson fires

December 31, 2011 |  3:20 pm

Fire

Top Los Angeles fire and police officials strategized for hours Saturday on how to capture whoever was responsible for setting some three dozen fires over a two-day period.

As the zone of arson fires expanded into North Hollywood and into the far northeast San Fernando Valley, and possibly as far south as the Venice-Westchester area, sources said the Los Angeles Police Department was ramping up its dragnet to snare the culprit or culprits.

According to sources familiar with the investigation, the LAPD has brought in numerous specialized units, including Robbery-Homicide Division detectives, Metro and SWAT, as well as numerous undercover officers. They also were employing additional technology to help sort through clues from the dozens of crime scenes more quickly and efficiently.

Photos: Hollywood arson fires

Brian Humphrey, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, described arson investigators as on edge as fires continued for a second day.

"In my 26 years on the job, I've never seen fires of this nature on two subsequent days," he said. "Our firefighters are quite tense. it's heartbreaking to see people lose their valuables. It would unbearable if someone is seriously injured or killed."

Humphrey said the exact number of fires from Saturday were still being tallied, and that investigators could discover additional attempted fires as people return from the New Year's holiday weekend.

He stressed that it was too early to tell whether the fires were the work of one or multiple people, including people working in tandem or as copycats.

"We are not ruling anything in and aren't ruling out anything either," Humphrey said.

Early Friday morning, 21 fires were started in a relatively small area around Hollywood and West Hollywood. On Friday night and Saturday morning, 16 more fires were reported. They were similar to the ones in the Hollywood area, but were spread out over a much larger area.

Eight occurred in North Hollywood, three in the foothill area of the San Fernando Valley, three in the LAPD's Wilshire Division, one on the Westside and one in Lennox.

Law enforcement sources told The Times that it would be difficult -- but not impossible -- for one person to set all those fires.

 

Officials described the blazes set Friday as one of the worst arson rampages in Los Angeles in recent history.

Among the properties damaged was the Hollywood Hills home where The Doors' Jim Morrison once lived. The home inspired Morrison's song "Love Street."

The only clue officials have released about Saturday's fires is that they are looking for a male driving a white and tan mid-1990s Lexus ES300. No further description of the suspect was released.

RELATED:

Officials seek tips after string of blazes

Ruin, wreckage at Jim Morrison's former home

-- Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Plumber Uri Oren works to clear a drain after an arson fire Friday in the carport of an apartment building on Harper Avenue in West Hollywood.

Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times.

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