L.A. arson suspect ID'd as 24-year-old Hollywood man
Published Monday, January 2, 2012 10:09PM EST
Police in Los Angeles have identified a suspect they arrested earlier Monday in connection with a string of arson fires, but it's still unclear why a car with British Columbia plates was linked to the investigation.
Officials told reporters Monday evening they have arrested 24-year-old Harry Burkhart, who lives in Hollywood, and booked him on charges of arson of an inhabited dwelling.
Burkhart is currently being held without bail.
Earlier Monday, media reports suggested the man arrested in connection with the 53 fires that were set between early Friday and early Monday may be a native of Germany who had been driving a van with British Columbia plates.
The Los Angeles Times, citing police sources, reported that the man appears to have been battling the U.S. government over the immigration status of a relative.
ABC News reported the man may have been angry about a deportation hearing against his mother that took place about a week and a half ago.
During their Monday evening news conference, law enforcement agents would only confirm that Burkhart is a foreign national from Germany.
The man was stopped by a reserve sheriff's deputy near the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue early Monday morning. Sources told the Times that the minivan the man was driving had B.C. licence plates. The same sources said detectives found materials inside the van that could have been used to set fires.
Officials said there have not been any suspicious fires since the suspect was detained. However, police warned Los Angeles residents to remain vigilant as investigators determine if there are other suspects.
Police said search warrants were being served at Burkhart's residence Monday evening.
The fires began early Friday with 17 car fires in the West Hollywood and Hollywood areas.
Sixteen additional fires were set late Friday and early Saturday across Hollywood, with another in Burbank. Late New Year's Eve, eight more fires were set, before another 11 broke out early Monday.
Los Angeles fire Capt. Jaime Moore told reporters at an earlier news conference, held at noon local time Monday, that to date the fires have caused "well in excess of $2 million" in damage.
The fires were set in cars and in many cases spread to nearby structures. The fires have not caused any civilian injuries or deaths. However, one firefighter was injured Monday morning.
Police had been searching since Sunday for a man seen on grainy surveillance video near the scene of one of the suspicious car fires.
The man was captured on video Saturday emerging on foot from an underground parking structure on Hollywood Boulevard, where one of the car fires was reported.
Police said the "person of interest" they were looking for was white, heavy-set, between 20 and 30 years old with a receding hairline and a shoulder-length ponytail.
Moore said the sheriff's deputy stopped the van because it resembled a description provided by a special task force created to probe the fires. The task force is made up of investigators from city and county fire and police departments, the Los Angeles District Attorney's office and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The suspect also matched the description provided by the task force based on the surveillance video, Moore said.
The arson wave is considered the worst the city has seen since the 1992 Rodney King riots. A US$60,000 reward has been offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the arsonist or arsonists.
On Monday, police declined to say what evidence tied the fires together. They also refused to explain how the fires were set.
Law enforcement sources told The L.A. Times that they were concerned that releasing more information might prompt the arsonists to change tactics. It could also encourage copycats.