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Police brace for more L.A. arson fires on New Year's Eve

December 31, 2011 |  3:01 pm

Suspected arson fire
Authorities across Southern California were beefing up patrols Saturday night, hoping to catch the person or persons responsible for more than 35 fires 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 not definitively 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 Hollywood but were spread out over a much larger area.

Photos: Hollywood arson fires

Eight of the fires occurred in North Hollywood, three in the foothill area of the San Fernando Valley, three in the Wilshire Division of the Los Angeles Police Department, one on the Westside and one in Lennox.

Police and L.A. sheriff's officials said they will have added patrols tonight, as have the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Several cities that border Los Angeles were following events with the arson case very carefully, given their proximity to the crime scenes. Santa Monica police officials said they already had many more officers on duty because of the New Year's holiday and that they were alert for possible arson fires within the city limits.

Glendale police spokesman Tom Lorenz said holiday deployment had markedly increased the number of officers on roving patrols.

"There's going to be a lot of officers in Glendale driving around," Lorenz said. "We will be paying close attention" for anyone trying to start fires.

Burbank, which also has a maximum deployment for the holiday weekend, reported at least one arson fire Saturday that fit the profile of those in neighboring Los Angeles. They noted that they were working with Los Angeles authorities and were also on the lookout for any repeat.

Officials described the blazes set Friday as one of the worst arson rampages in Los Angeles in recent history.

Among the properties damaged was the Hollywood Hills home where the Doors' Jim Morrison once lived. The home inspired Morrison's song "Love Street."

Friday night's fires left L.A.-area residents on edge and investigators perplexed as they began the painstaking search for clues on who had set the blazes and why.

Nearly all of the fires began with a vehicle being set ablaze. Several times, the flames jumped to nearby apartment buildings or houses, causing significant damage at some of the locations.

Estimates of the total damage were not available, although officials from the Los Angeles County Fire Department said that four fires set in West Hollywood alone destroyed about $350,000 worth of cars and property.

One firefighter suffered back and neck injuries and was taken to a hospital. His condition was not thought to be serious.

The only clue officials have released about the Saturday fires is that they are looking for a male driving a white-and-tan mid-1990s Lexus ES300. No further description of the suspect was released.


Officials seek tips after string of blazes

Ruin, wreckage at Jim Morrison's former home

Los Angeles arson fires char holiday spirit

-- Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Firefighter Dane Jackson surveys the scene near 2000 N. Laurel Canyon Drive in Hollywood after a suspected arson car fire ignited a nearby house. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times