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Arson suspect Harry Burkhart charged in L.A.-area fires

January 4, 2012 |  2:30 pm

Harry Burkhart

Harry Burkhart was charged Wednesday with setting a series of fires across the Los Angeles area.

Felony complaint against Harry BurkhartProsecutors said they were filing a total of 37 counts, adding that they are continuing to investigate the fires and that more charges could be coming soon.

“After reviewing the available evidence, we filed 28 counts of arson of property and nine counts of arson of an inhabited structure,” Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said in a statement.  “The complaint also alleges that the arson was caused by use of a device designed to accelerate the fire. If found true, the allegation could mean additional custody time for the defendant."

MAP: Southland arsons

It was not immediately clear which fires he was charged with but officials said the criminal counts involve 13 fires.

Hours before the charges were filed, prosecutors in Germany said Burkhart was suspected of torching a home owned by his family six days before he arrived in the United States.

Burkhart is being investigated in the Oct. 14 fire in Schwalm-Eder-Kreis near Frankfurt, which destroyed a vacant house owned by the Burkhart family and put neighboring buildings at risk, German authorities told The Times. U.S. authorities said Burkhart entered the U.S. on Oct. 20 by flying into Las Vegas.

Burkhart's family later filed an insurance claim for the blaze, the German prosecutors said.

Federal immigration officials said they believed Burkhart was in the United States on a visa due to expire in two weeks.

PHOTOS: Southland arsons

But authorities could not find a visa file for his mother, Dorothee, with whom Burkhart lived and often traveled.

It was unclear how Dorothee Burkhart gained entry into the United States, said Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department.

A court document indicates that Dorothee Burkhart was in Frankfurt as recently as October before flying to Las Vegas and accompanying her son to the German consulate in Los Angeles to renew his passport.

But immigration officials said Tuesday the court document is incorrect and that the last time she entered the country was in 2007.

Los Angeles police say they found fire-starting material in his minivan when he was arrested Monday.


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-- Efrem Gebreab in Germany, and Richard Winton and Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles

Photo: Harry Burkhart being arrested Monday.

Credit: KTLA-TV Channel 5