Task force set up by community leaders aims to end old problem worsened by economic crisis.
|Most of the fires were started inside vehicles, with 12 new blazes set on Monday morning [Reuters]|
A German man has been arrested in connection with more than 50 suspected arson attacks that have destroyed parked cars and scorched buildings in Los Angeles, the second-largest city in the US, in the last four days.
Harry Burkhart, 24, was detained as the prime suspect and is being held by authorities without bail.
He was picked up by a reserve sheriff’s deputy on Monday, after the officer noticed that he resembled a “person of interest” captured in a surveillance video and was in a van being sought by arson investigators.
The fires set over the last three days in Hollywood, neighbouring West Hollywood and in the San Fernando Valley have caused an estimated $3m in damage.
Police have so far declined to reveal any possible motive behind the suspected arson attacks.
Firefighters have not responded to any suspicious fires since Burkhart was taken into custody, the department said.
The fires, set over the New Year’s weekend, forced many apartment residents to flee from their homes.
No serious injuries were reported to have resulted from the blazes, though one firefighter was hurt in a fall from a ladder, and another person suffered from smoke inhalation.
One the fires set on Saturday occurred at the Hollywood and Highland entertainment complex, a popular tourist site bordered on one side by the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Damaged buildings included a house that was once home to rock singer Jim Morrison, vocalist for the Doors, in Laurel Canyon.
Continued vigilance urged
Most of the fires began in cars, though authorities have not said how they were started. Investigators say they are not providing any immediate details because doing so may jeopardise their legal case.
The onslaught of intentionally lit fires has left residents of the Los Angeles area on edge in recent days.
Hundreds of investigators, police officers and firefighters have been dealing with the fires. Police conducted extra patrols through the weekend, and helicopters were on constant lookout for new fires.
On Monday morning, investigators said they were still piecing together the sequence of the blazes, examining more than 100 potential clues and interviewing witnesses.
Police urged residents to check their cars for any signs of tampering and suggested that people take simple precautions such as locking their vehicles and keeping garage and carport lights on at night.
Despite the arrest on Monday, authorities are continuing to urge vigilance.
“We’re not resting, and we’re not stopping” the extra patrols, Police Commander Andrew Smith said. “If you have lights in your carport area, keep them on tonight.”
Some other deliberately set fires were reported on Thursday in Hollywood, and two people were arrested. But police said on Monday that those suspects were not connected with the 52 other blazes.