LOS ANGELES – A rash of arson fires in the dark of night set Los Angeles on edge over New Year’s Eve, and authorities deployed hundreds of extra firefighters, patrol cars, undercover officers and helicopters to stop the attacks.
On Saturday evening, firefighters quickly extinguished a vehicle fire in a Hollywood carport and another one in a nearby parking deck. Those blazes followed at least 38 other suspicious fires between Thursday night and Saturday morning, making it the worst wave of arson since the 1992 riots.
“Whoever is doing this is really messing with people’s lives,” said Los Angeles Fire Capt. Jamie Moore.
Most of the blazes were started on automobiles, but some spread to homes and apartments. The incidents ranged from the Westside to Hollywood and north to the San Fernando Valley and south to Lennox. By Saturday night, the Los Angeles police and fire departments were leading a multi-agency campaign across the county.
“We’re pulling out all the stops,” Los Angeles city fire department spokesman Brian Humphrey said.
Extra firefighters were reporting to stations across Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Burbank and Glendale, while investigators set up a telephone hotline, interviewed witnesses and ran down tips. Officials announced at least $35,000 in rewards for information leading to a conviction in the case.
“We’ve re-assigned detectives from major crimes division and robbery homicide, exclusively to find who’s doing this,” said LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith. “We’ve got dozens of detectives working around the clock.”
Police arrested two people on Friday on suspicion of lighting of fires but said they were not suspects in the arson spree.
Based on witness interviews, authorities said they were searching for a man driving a white and tan mid-1990s Lexus ES300. However, the large number of fires sparked over the two-day period led law enforcement sources to speculate that more than one arsonist was at large.
The sources said it’s possible some of the blazes were the work of copycats.
The fires occurred when many people were enjoying the holidays with friends and family.
Sidni Appleseed Myles, 42, said she heard an explosion in the carport underneath her North Hollywood apartment about 2 a.m. Saturday.
Seeing the flames out the window, Myles ran outside in her nightgown with an out-of-town guest and her two teenage daughters, screaming, “Fire!”
The tenants dashed out to find four cars engulfed in flames that then reached to the balcony and ignited an outer wall of Myles’ apartment.
“You can’t believe the inferno that was there. It was incredible,” said her friend, Ray Carroll, a teacher from New Jersey.
“I’m just glad to be alive,” said Myles.