WASHINGTON – Hundreds of police and firefighters – supported by helicopters – reinforced security in Los Angeles on Sunday after at least one unknown arsonist set fires around the city for the third consecutive night.
At least 12 vehicles parked in different neighborhoods were burned on New Year’s Eve after similar incidents on the previous two nights resulted in 38 fires around the city, the daily Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.
The wave of fires, the worse since the 1992 riots, have caused millions of dollars of damage while authorities are continuing their frantic search for clues that would lead them to a suspect or suspects.
Based on interviews with witnesses, police are looking for at least one person, a man driving a cinnamon-colored Lexus ES300, the Times said.
“Whoever is doing this is really messing with people’s lives,” Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Jamie Moore told the daily.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, offered a reward of $60,000 for information on the person or people responsible for the fires, while Los Angeles police have offered a $35,000 reward.
Authorities are working with the hypothesis that the fires were linked and orchestrated by a single person, but the number of blazes and the fact that they sprang up rapidly in widely separated spots points to the possibility that some of them were sparked by at least one “copycat” unconnected to the initial incidents.
Police commander Andrew Smith said that detectives had been reassigned from the department’s serious crimes divisions to find the arsonist(s), adding that dozens of detectives are working the case around the clock.
Among the properties damaged by the fires is the Hollywood Hills home where the late iconic lead singer of The Doors, Jim Morrison, lived for a time.
The most recent night of fires came amid the New Year’s Eve festivities, and local resident Carl Lybecker, 32 – who saw the apartment block adjacent to his own burn – said it was “pure luck” that nobody was injured or worse in the blazes.
Lybecker said that what is really frightening is how vulnerable people are in the middle of the night. People woke up when the fires started, but he asked rhetorically what would have happened if they had continued sleeping or had taken a sleeping pill before retiring.