LAPD chief confident arson suspect is in custody

LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles Police Charlie Beck said he is confident authorities have their man after a 22-year-old was arrested and charged with arson Monday in connection with more than 50 fires in the last week.

A second man, age 55, was also under arrest, authorities said in a midday press conference. They were set to release further details later Monday evening.

Beck tells City News Service that the first suspect, a ponytailed man driving a van linked by investigators to the crimes, had materials possibly linking him to the fires when his van was stopped by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies early Monday morning near the Hollywood border with West Hollywood.

Fifty-three fires have been set since last week in Los Angeles and nearby communities, most of them in cars inside apartment carports. Those include a dozen fires on Monday.

No one was seriously injured but many apartment dwellers were forced from their homes. One police officer was hurt and one civilian suffered smoke inhalation. Officials said that the fires had caused more than $2 million in property damage.

The developments came a day after police distributed DVDs featuring footage of a man, between 20 and 30 years old with a receding hairline and a shoulder-length ponytail, whom they described as a person of interest. He was seen on grainy surveillance video Saturday after emerging on foot from inside an underground parking structure on Hollywood Boulevard where a car fire was reported.

The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that the man in custody "is a native of Germany who may have been in dispute with federal immigration officials."

The Times, citing unnamed sources, said the man may have been battling federal officials over the immigration status of a relative, but it was unclear whether that dispute was related in any way to the fires.

Meanwhile, multiple media outlets are reporting that the person in custody was driving a vehicle with British Columbia license plates. Sources have also told ABC News that an incendiary device was found in the blue van.

A person of interest was taken into custody for questioning regarding the string of Los Angeles arson attacks, Jan. 2, 2011.
A unidentified person of interest was taken into custody for questioning regarding the string of Los Angeles arson attacks, Jan. 2, 2011.

Early Monday, firefighters battled 12 suspected arson fires at carports and garages. Ten occurred in Los Angeles and two were in West Hollywood, said fire department spokesman Capt. Jaime Moore. They broke out shortly after 1:30 a.m.

Moore said authorities believe the latest fires were connected to the earlier ones.

Detectives spent 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.

Most of those fires were set in parked cars. In several cases, flames have jumped to carports and apartment units.

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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.

(Watch report from CBS 2 in Los Angeles).