Police release security video in LA car fires case

January 2, 2012 - 4:55 AM
APTOPIX Los Angeles Arson

A Los Angeles Fire Department firefighter extinguishes multiple cars on fire in a carport in the Sun Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011. For the third night in a row, a rash of arson fires has sent firefighters scrambling to extinguish car fires in various neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Most of the fires on this night occurred in the San Fernando Valley. (AP Photo/Dan Steinberg)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles detectives want to talk to a man caught on grainy surveillance video at a parking garage that was the scene of one of dozens of suspicious car fires in the city.

Police distributed DVDs on Sunday featuring footage of the person of interest, a white male between 20 and 30 years old with a receding hairline and a shoulder-length ponytail. The man is wanted for questioning in connection with the rash of arson blazes, said Officer Sara Faden.

He was seen on video Saturday after emerging on foot from inside an underground parking structure on Hollywood Boulevard where a car fire was reported.

Detectives estimated the man, who was wearing a bulky jacket, is between 5-feet-6 and 6-feet-1.

Faden said investigators are asking for the public's help in identifying the man on the video.

Detectives spent early Sunday analyzing security video camera footage and following up on other leads after a half dozen more vehicles were set on fire on New Year's Eve.

The outbreak of arson fires has left a trail of smoldering debris in Hollywood, West Hollywood, North Hollywood and the Fairfax district of Los Angeles since Thursday.

Authorities said they were investigating a total of 43 suspicious fires. Most of those fires were set in parked cars. In several cases, flames have jumped to carports and apartment units.

A reward of $60,000 has been offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the arsonist.

Detectives served a search warrant at a home in the San Fernando Valley, Det. Gus Villanueva said Sunday. Several interviews were conducted, but no arrests were made.

"They are working on hundreds of clues, interviewing dozens of witnesses, picking up countless pieces of evidence," police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said of the detectives.

Authorities haven't said how the car fires were sparked or what was collected at the crime scenes. They were unsure if the rash of fires were the work of one arsonist or multiple people or copycats.

There have been no injuries.

Extra patrols were out in force on New Year's Eve. One of Saturday's attacks occurred at the Hollywood and Highland entertainment complex, a popular tourist destination and hotspot for holiday revelers. Firefighters responded to a report of a small car fire in a parking structure that was out by the time they arrived.

Firefighters routinely are called to put out burning cars, but this recent spate has been unusual because of the frequency and location of the fires. Crews have been responding to other emergencies despite the focus on solving the fire arsons, fire spokesman Erik Scott said.

Police urged residents to check their cars for any signs of tampering and take simple precautions such as locking their cars, keeping garage and carport lights on at night and reporting suspicious activity.

"We are not going to rest," Los Angeles Fire Department assistant chief Pat Butler said Sunday at a joint police-fire news conference. "We are going to work tirelessly."

Police officials were working with Sheriff's Department detectives, city and county fire investigators and members of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.