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L.A. arson probe: Person of interest had 'creepy' smile, witness says

Police investigate arson fires

When the man police have identified as a "person of interest" in Los Angeles' spate of recent arson attacks was sitting in the back of a squad car early Monday morning, a small group of witnesses gave him "the finger"-- and he returned the gesture with a smile, one witness said.

Map shows locations of fires possibly linked to recent arson spree. Click through for more information."It was creepy," said Rick Savage, a music producer who saw the incident at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.

Savage said he was awake because he has been nervous about the string of arsons in recent days in his and other nearby neighborhoods. He said he had downloaded a police scanner application onto his iPad and went to the area at about 3:15 a.m. after hearing reports that authorities had tracked a person of interest in the case.

MAP: Arson fires

"For the past three nights, it's been freaking me out," Savage said of the fires.

Aaron Arellano, who works the graveyard shift at a gas station across from where authorities stopped a blue minivan with the man inside, said that at first there were only three squad cars near the minivan.

Then "little by little" more police and fire vehicles arrived until there was a mass of about two dozen on Sunset Boulevard, said the 28-year-old Arrelano. He said police officers -- some of whom came into the gas station for coffee -- told him they had caught "one of the arsonists."

PHOTOS: Arson fires

Earlier Monday morning, police had stationed patrol cars throughout the affected areas and for a while set up checkpoints at some intersections.

There were so many patrol cars and officers involved in the hunt that at one point Monday morning there were more than a dozen squad cars from the LAPD's Central Division on Ventura Boulevard, called in for additional help.

The cars were stopped near one of the recent fires that had destroyed a car parked outside a single-family home on Sunnyslope Avenue in Sherman Oaks.

RELATED:

FULL COVERAGE: Arson fires

Suspect arrested in string of fires

Police examine immigration link to case

-- Ari Bloomekatz in Hollywood

Photo: Police investigate a minivan officials say may be linked to a series of arson fires. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Map: Shows locations of fires possibly linked to recent arson spree. Credit: Los Angeles Times

 
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