Share this article

print logo

Officials ramp up hunt for arsonist; Fire crews brace for more blazes

On an uneasy New Year's Eve in Los Angeles, police and firefighters scrambled Saturday to identify who was behind the arson fires that have spooked the Hollywood area for two straight nights.

Several vehicles were set ablaze in 13 fires set between midnight and 6 a.m. Saturday, mostly in North Hollywood. Officials said they bore a resemblance to the nearly two dozen fires set in and around Hollywood a day earlier.

Though some of the fires spread and damaged homes and apartments, no one has been injured.

But some residents were on edge as authorities ramped up efforts to catch the culprit or culprits on a night when police and fire resources are always stretched thin as drunken New Year's revelers hit the town.

"We're pulling out all the stops," fire department spokesman Brian Humphrey said Saturday. "We're hoping that the person or people responsible will be brought to swift and complete justice."

Firefighters were to be stationed around the city to respond to emergencies, while authorities set up a hotline and pored through tips. Authorities also were interviewing witnesses, looking at video footage for clues and have announced at least $35,000 in rewards for information leading to a conviction.

Among the most pressing questions: Were the fires set by a serial arsonist, multiple people or copycats? And why target cars, apparently at random?

"It's really unnerving," said Gary Joseph, one of several neighbors who stood looking at the frames of four badly charred vehicles in a carport in North Hollywood. Joseph said there was no way to stow his own car and keep it safe.

"It's partly exposed, but there's nothing I can do about it," he said.

Elyse Eisenberg, a film producer who lives in West Hollywood about a mile from a fire that was set Friday morning, said that since then she has noticed fire trucks ramping up their presence on city streets.

"I've seen the fire trucks stationed around town on ready alert. And that's comforting They're positioned in neighborhoods ready to go like in Laurel Canyon where the Jim Morrison fire was," Eisenberg said, referring to the house of the famous late Doors singer, which was among those damaged Friday.

While few clues have emerged publicly, officials have speculated that it's plausible that one person in a car, on a motorcycle or on a bike could have set all the fires, considering the limited area the blazes broke out in, but know they could be looking for multiple suspects.

Police said they were looking for a man who was driving a mid-1990s Lexus sedan, but offered no further description or details.

Officials have yet to set a damage figure for the blazes. In West Hollywood alone, they said flames destroyed about $350,000 worth of property.