Police say they have arrested a "person of interest" in a string of fires that continued into Monday morning with 12 new blazes across Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley.
The suspect physically matches the description of someone police were looking for – a man with a pony tail and receding hair line. He was stopped early this morning at Sunset and Fairfax and police say they found evidence in his van, which had Canadian license plates.
Before Southern Californians start blaming Canada, police say the suspect is a Germany national who may have been in dispute with U.S. immigration officials, says the Los Angeles Times.
Early Monday morning, firefighters and police sped from one blaze to another in West Hollywood, on Laurel Canyon Road and in Sherman Oaks. Firefighters blocked access to Laurel Canyon road and stopped vehicles trying to enter the pass.
Fire officials say a total of 55 fires have broken throughout the spree in the Los Angeles area, the most destructive rash of arsons in the city since the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.
On Sunday, Los Angeles police released surveillance footage of a person of interest in the case taken in a parking structure in Hollywood. They say the person they are seeking is a middle-aged white man with a bald spot and shoulder-length ponytail.
Police asked residents to keep their porch and garage lights on at night and report suspicious activity after a string of arsons police are calling the worst since the 1992 riots continued for a third night.
In the mean time, police are encouraging a “see something, say something” mentality.
“Couple of things the public can do is they can keep the lights on in their porches and in their carport areas especially. Make sure that your car is locked so that no one can enter into your car. Make sure your neighbors are keeping an eye out for each other. Make sure that you talk to your neighbors and you report anything suspicious," said LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith.
New Year's Eve and early Sunday saw at least a handful of arsons in the city of Los Angeles and West Hollywood, bringing the total number of suspicious blazes since Thursday in those areas to at least 39. Another, similar arson was reported Saturday in Burbank, very close to the string of arsons that hit North Hollywood at the same time.
Few details were released at a news conference Sunday in Hollywood, attended by police and fire officials from the City of Los Angeles and adjacent West Hollywood, where county agencies provide public safety under contract with that city.
"I'm not going to speak anything about the type of devices" being used to light the fires, said Pat Butler, an LAFD assistant chief. "We do believe we have incendiary, intentional fires that result in auto fires that result in apartment fires."
Rick Price retired firefighter & arson investigator for L.A. City Fire Department said generally, many arsonists are setting fires out of spite, but because of the wide geographic range of the fires, that is less likely.
"I would have to think something like this is vandalism or some sort of pirate," he said.
Vandalism can have ties to gang activity and pirates often enjoy the art of setting fires and may enjoy watching the fires burn.
Detectives from the LAPD's Major Crimes and Robbery-Homicide divisions spent the weekend working on the crimes, including analyzing security video camera pictures.
"We've reassigned dozens of detectives," Smith said."Those detectives are now working together around the clock... We've got hundreds of clues, dozens of witnesses, and countless pieces of evidence."
The police commander urged residents from the Fairfax District north across Hollywood and through the Cahuenga Pass into North Hollywood to examine their cars today and call police if they see they have been tampered with overnight.
Butler, the assistant fire chief, declared the string of arsons to be "an attack on the heart and soul" of firefighters and public safety officers.
"Our firefighters have battled courageously in the face of danger, and responded quickly in these events," he said.
But the officials said it was too early a specific list of addresses that have been hit by the arsons. Firefighters and police are still gathering evidence at many of the scenes and are not ready to definitively link each site to the arsonist or arsonists, or even say how many people or teams of people may have participated in setting the fires, Butler said.
Smith said LAPD routinely puts extra police on the streets on New Year's Eve to track celebratory gunfire and arrest people who fire their guns into the air, which in years past has killed or wounded people. One man in Watts was hit by celebratory gunfire early today, and even LAPD Chief Charlie Beck was in uniform Saturday night working a gunfire suppression unit.
Some of those units were diverted into Hollywood and North Hollywood this year due to the arsons, Smith said.