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L.A. arson probe: Police examine immigration link to case

January 2, 2012 |  9:23 am

The "person of interest" detained for questioning in a string of arson fires is a native of Germany who may have been in dispute with federal immigration officials, sources said

The "person of interest" detained for questioning in a string of arson fires is a native of Germany who may have been in dispute with federal immigration officials, sources said.

Map shows locations of fires possibly linked to recent arson spree. Credit: Los Angeles TimesThe man appears to have been battling the U.S. government over the immigration status of a relative, but the officials said they don't know if this played any role in the case. The Los Angeles Police Department is in communication with federal immigration officials concerning the dispute, the law enforcement sources said.

LAPD detectives found materials that could have been used to set fires inside the man's minivan, the sources said.

MAP: Arson fires

Little is known about the man. Sources said the minivan had Canadian license plates but that detectives say the man is from Germany.

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 that "it is too early to speculate if this person is responsible for the spree of arson fires."

PHOTOS: Arson fires

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

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 burning cars and carports in apartment complexes, police and fire officials said.

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.

FULL COVERAGE: Arson fires

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 those fires were also 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.

RELATED:

FULL COVERAGE: Arson fires

Suspect arrested in string of fires

Fire-starting materials found in van, police say

-- Andrew Blankstein, Richard Winton and Ari Bloomekatz

Photo: Los Angeles police examine a vehicle taken into custody when a "person of interest" was detained in connection with a string 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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