COVER STORY: Los Angeles Car Fire Epidemic

One person was arrested following a major investigation after more than 50 car fires were started in and around the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, CA, in less than a week from Dec. 30, 2011, through Jan. 2, 2012.

There were 17 vehicle/structure fires during the early-morning hours of Dec. 30 alone. This was the city’s worst arson spree since 1992, when about 3,600 fires were set after the acquittal of four white police officers accused of using excessive force in the videotaped beating of a black man, Rodney King. Fifty-three people died and more than 1,000 buildings were destroyed in the rioting.

During the recent spree, a joint Arson Task Force consisting of the Los Angeles City Fire Department, Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles County Fire Department, District Attorney’s Office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) was formed. From the evening of Dec. 30 through the morning of Dec. 31, an additional 16 vehicle/structure fires were received. The evening of Dec. 31 brought eight additional incidents. Eleven more calls were dispatched in the early morning of Jan. 2. One firefighter and one civilian were injured. The fires caused about $2 million in damage.

Numerous investigators reviewed clues, mapped the sequence of fires, interviewed hundreds of witnesses and canvassed 53 fire scenes. The alleged arsonist was captured on video-surveillance cameras and descriptions of the arsonist and a vehicle were broadcast. A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy stopped a vehicle matching the description and the suspected arsonist was apprehended.