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Police dig into L.A. arson suspect's past, seek motive for fires

January 2, 2012 |  3:02 pm

Officials said the "person of interest" detained early Monday in connection with a string of more than 50 deliberately set fires has been arrested and is expected to be booked on arson charges later in the afternoon

Federal and local authorities were working to learn more about a man arrested Monday in connected with more than 50 fires that broke out over the last few days.

Law enforcement sources said the man, who has not been identified, had lived for some time in Germany before coming to Los Angeles.

It remains unclear what the motive for the fires is  and exactly how law enforcement authorities came to focus on him. The sources said that federal authorities had provided information that helped identify the man as a potential "person of interest" in the case.

The Los Angeles Police Department said officials plan to book the man on arson charges later Monday afternoon.

PHOTOS: Arson fires

The man may 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 arson case. The LAPD is in communication with federal immigration officials concerning the dispute, said the law enforcement sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing.

NMap shows locations of fires possibly linked to recent arson spree. Credit: Los Angeles Timeso new fires have been reported since the man was taken into custody, but police stressed that the investigation is ongoing.

The fires have caused an estimated $2 million in damage, authorities said.

MAP: Arson fires

At a news conference Monday, officials said the arson task force is sifting through about 100 clues in the case.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, interviewed at the Rose Parade by City News Service, said: "I feel very good that we've got the right guy. [The suspect] had the right stuff in his van, and we are very confident we found our man.''

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

FULL COVERAGE: Arson fires

Little is known about the suspect. 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, when authorities pointed to the individual as a "person of interest" in the case.

The man was taken into custody after a morning of fires across the Hollywood area Monday. Eleven fires were reported in two hours beginning at 1:30 a.m.; most were burning cars and fires in 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.

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. At the time, 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.


FULL COVERAGE: Arson fires

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Photo: Los Angeles police examine a vehicle taken into custody when a "person of interest" was detained in connection with a string of fires. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Image: A map shows the locations of fires possibly linked to the recent fires. Credit: Los Angeles Times