Detective Publishes Book Debunking Firebug Myths

Edward Nordskog's colleagues couldn't believe the good timing when his book on serial arsonists came out two weeks before a firebug burned a swath of terror through Hollywood and beyond.


One night, a shaft of light from Glazier's property lit up their property. Glazier took a pressurized paint sprayer and shot gas into the crawl space beneath the house, then set the vapors on fire with a 20-foot flaming torch made out of pipes.

The attack was caught on the neighbors' surveillance cameras, and the paint sprayer containing burnt gas and pipes long enough to stretch to the neighbor's house were found in Glazier's truck and garage, an appeals court said.

"While he was waiting for the firemen, he rakes his yard, so there's no footprints and he puts the devices in his truck to take to another property he owned," Nordskog said. "But we got lucky. The firemen blocked his driveway by accident."

Glazier was convicted of arson and related charges.

"He was very ingenious," Nordskog said.

One Southern California serial arsonist that Nordskog writes about, Glendale fire investigator John Orr, does fit the Hollywood mold. But Nordskog says that's because he based his sprees on the crime novels he loved to read.

Orr was not just a firefighter arsonist but also a well-regarded arson detective who trained law enforcement throughout the state while he was setting more than 1,000 fires, Nordskog writes. Orr was sentenced to life in prison without parole for starting a fire that killed four people in a South Pasadena hardware store in 1997.

He used a signature fire-trigger delay device, consisting of a cigarette, yellow paper and matches, and wrote a manuscript titled "Points of Origin," detailing the activities of a firefighter-turned-arsonist who uses his specialized knowledge to outwit authorities.

In reality, most serial arsonists use matches or lighters and can barely function in the world, much less match wits with detectives, Nordskog said. But Orr managed to convince an entire generation of fire investigators that signature devices were a trademark of the serial arsonist, Nordskog said.

"In the end, Orr was probably only an expert on himself," Nordskog writes. "The only fires he solved were his own."

gale.holland@latimes.com