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Couple lose car, apartment in rash of L.A.-area arson fires

December 31, 2011 |  4:04 pm


Steve Diaz lost both his car -- a 2011 Kia Optima -- and the Sunland apartment he shares with his wife, 25-year-old Michelle Villegas.

The couple woke up about 2:20 a.m. Saturday after hearing windows shattering and metal crackling in their apartment building. Villegas called 911 but neither she nor her husband could find their way out because of the smoke.

"We didn't quite know how big it was," said Diaz, a 26-year-old lab technician. "As soon as we went out, the smoke and the heat burned your face. It was like we couldn't breathe."

Photos: Hollywood arson fires

A firefighter with a flashlight guided the couple out of their apartment, which is two stories above the carport where vehicles caught fire.

"We were planning on moving ... but not in a hurry like this," said Villegas, as she loaded boxes of clothes into her car.

"I don't know that it's even sunk in yet, what's happened," Diaz said as he and his wife carried boxes of their belongings from their apartment.

They were among the victims of a series of more than 35 arson fires that hit L.A. over the last two days.

Los Angeles police and fire officials were trying to determine whether the fires were the work of one arsonist or several. Some officials believe it would be difficult for one person to have set all the fires but have definitely ruled out a lone arsonist, law enforcement sources told The Times.

On 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.


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-- David Zahniser in Sunland

Photo: Steve Diaz carries shirts Saturday inside his apartment in Sun Valley. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times