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L.A. arson probe: Fire-starting materials found in van, police say

January 2, 2012 |  7:21 am

Fire-starting materials found in van, police say

Los Angeles Police Department detectives found materials that could have been used to set fires inside the minivan of a "person of interest" detained for questioning in the recent string of L.A. arson fires, law enforcement sources told The Times.

The sources did not reveal details but said detectives confiscated “evidence and materials” that suggest the individual had the ability to ignite some or all of the blazes.

Little is known about the man. Sources said the the minivan had Canadian license plates but that detectives believe the man might originally be from Germany.

PHOTOS: Arson fires

The man was detained near a drugstore at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Sunset Boulevard early Monday morning, according to a witness to the incident.

Several sources said the man is believed to be the same person seen in a surveillance video released by police Sunday. However, in a statement, a Los Angeles fire official stressed “it is too early to speculate if this person is responsible for the spree of arson fires.”

A police source also stressed the investigation was still in its early stages and that detectives were  still trying to determine whether the man was a suspect in the arsons. All the sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing.

MAP: Arson fires

The minivan was loaded onto a tow truck and impounded Monday morning.

"That's headed to the crime lab," L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge said at the scene. He said police were still pulling together information about the man, whose name has not be released.

The detention followed a morning of arson fires popping up across the Hollywood area Monday. Eleven fires were reported in two hours, beginning at 1:30 a.m., most to cars and carports in apartment complexes, police and fire officials said.

FULL COVERAGE: Arson fires

A total of 55 "fires of concern" have broken out in the Los Angeles area since Friday, possibly the work of one arsonist, a fire official said early Monday.

Of those fires, 45 occurred in the Los Angeles area, another nine were in West Hollywood, and one was in Burbank, Erik Scott, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, wrote in a post on LAFD Alert, the department's blog.

At a news conference Sunday morning, officials said many of the fires have been started in cars and in some cases spread to carports, garages and apartments.

They declined to say what evidence tied the cases together or to give more information about how the fires were set. Law enforcement sources told The Times that detectives were concerned that releasing more information could prompt the arsonist or arsonists to change tactics and could encourage copycats.

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FULL COVERAGE: Arson fires

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Person of interest had 'creepy' smile, witness says

-- Andrew Blankstein, Richard Winton and Ari Bloomekatz

Photo: Los Angeles police examine a vehicle taken into custody with a "person of interest" was detained in connection with a string of arson fires. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

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