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Hollywood arson spree: Fires are 'highly unusual,' official says

December 30, 2011 | 12:42 pm

Carport fire
Los Angeles Fire Department officials on Friday described a series of 19 arson fires overnight in the Hollywood area as "highly unusual," adding that the blazes tested the department's resources.

Los Angeles Deputy Fire Chief Mario Rueda said that within 90 minutes of the first blaze, after four or five others had been reported, officials realized they had a big problem on their hands: These were not random fires; they were the work of an arsonist.

"This was highly unusual," Rueda said. "As units were responding to one fire, they heard dispatchers describing other fires."

MAP: Hollywood arson fires

Rueda said fire officials quickly called in Los Angeles police and extra arson investigators. Police were put on a citywide tactical alert.

They began mapping the fires and trying to sequence the events -– all with the intent of figuring out where the arsonist or arsonists would move next, he said.

Instead of simply putting out fires, additional crews were brought in to secure crime scenes. It was a night, he said, of managing chaos.

"This is the worst I've seen in a while," Rueda said. "We’ve had nights like this where there were three or four -– someone was driving or walking around and setting [a series] of fires, but not something where they were targeting the community to this extent."

The first call came in at 12:25 a.m. at 7763 Romaine Street in West Hollywood, officials said. A vehicle was engulfed in flames in an underground parking garage adjacent to an apartment building.

Three minutes later, a caller reported a similar blaze at 1047 Genesee Ave., according to authorities.

Then at 12:34 a.m., firefighters were called to another underground garage at 7702 Lexington Ave., where three vehicles were burning. The building sustained exterior damage, officials said.

While firefighters were battling those blazes, officials said, a call came in at 12:44 a.m. about a car fire four blocks away from the last fire, at Hawthorne and Curson avenues.

A fifth blaze, another car fire, was reported at 1:02 a.m. at Spaulding Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. Then at 1:22 a.m., firefighters were called to a house fire caused by a burning vehicle at 2000 N. Laurel Canyon Boulevard, authorities said.

At 2 a.m., firefighters were called to a car fire at 2472 Jupiter Drive. Ten minutes later, another call came in concerning a burning car at 1226 Harper Ave. in West Hollywood.

Then, within a 20-minute time frame, six more burning vehicles were reported: at 2:34 a.m. at Yucca and Vine streets, at 2:35 a.m. at 1769 North Orange Drive, at 2:38 a.m. at 8021 Rothdell Trail, a three-car fire at 2:39 a.m. at 1156 N. Cahuenga Blvd., at 2:44 a.m. at Hollywood Boulevard and Bronson Avenue, and at 2:54 a.m. at Lexington Avenue and Cahuenga Boulevard.

Meanwhile, firefighters from various fire stations were pulled in to help contain the blazes. The arson teams of the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department were also brought in.

At 4:07 a.m., firefighters were called to another vehicle fire at 1232 McCaden Place. Three minutes later, an apartment building at 1439 Poinsettia Ave. was evacuated after flames spread from a burning car, officials said.

Finally, at 4:16 a.m. reports of a vehicle fire at 1336 Citrus Ave. were called in.

Fire Department officials said authorities were swamped, first putting out the fires, then collecting evidence.

Samuel Arrington, 22, of Sunland was arrested Thursday and charged with starting three fires earlier in the day. He remains in custody. Police questioned Arrington on Friday to see if he had knowledge about the recent fires, officials said.

No suspect has been arrested in the latest string of fires, but authorities are seeking possible links to the earlier blazes set along a five-block stretch of Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.


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-- Andrew Blankstein, Joel Rubin and Ari Bloomekatz

Photo: Residents of the Caheunga Apartments at 1156 N. Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood check the damage to their cars on Friday. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times