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Police seek person of interest in arson fires

January 1, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Police on Sunday released surveillance footage of a person of interest in connection to the series of fires set in Los Angeles, considered the worst wave of arson in the city in 20 years.

View an interactive map of the locations of the arson fires.

The video shows a person wearing all black walking out of an underground parking garage at 6:59 p.m. on Dec. 30, just minutes before a fire erupted there. The location was on the north side of Hollywood Boulevard between Orange Drive and Sycamore Avenue.

Police said the person in the video has been seen by witnesses and has appeared in other surveillance videos at several of the locations where fires have started.

The man is believed to be 20 to 30 years old with a receding hairline and a ponytail.

"He has his right hand in his pocket, he never removes his right hand from his pocket," said Los Angeles police Commander Michael Moriaty. "We're not labeling this person as a suspect, but we certainly would like to talk to this person."

According to ABC News, the manhunt involves more than 100 police officers, county sheriff's investigators and fire investigators.

A source tells ABC News that many or all of the cars torched are foreign.

Fire officials confirmed as many as seven new fires were set in or around the Hollywood or West Hollywood areas on Saturday night, starting shortly before 6 p.m.

That brings the total to 39 reported fires spanning from early Friday morning to late Saturday night.

Fortunately, no one has sustained serious injuries.

Investigators are still searching for the suspect or suspects responsible for the fires. Several people have been detained, but no arrests have been made.

"They are working on hundreds of clues, interviewing dozens of witnesses, picking up countless pieces of evidence and working together in a coordinated effort to solve this problem," said Los Angeles police Commander Andrew Smith.

Los Angeles City Fire Capt. Jaime Moore said investigators are returning to every single incident to review similarities and gather as much information as they can.

The last suspicious fire was just before 9 p.m. Saturday in the 1000 block of Sweetzer Avenue in West Hollywood. The blaze burned up two vehicles in a detached carport adjacent to the apartment building, forcing residents to evacuate.

All of the latest fires were knocked down quickly, and no injuries have been reported, but residents say it was a frightening way to ring in the new year.

"By the time I got out there, the whole carport was engulfed. It's probably one of the craziest things I've ever seen. Just engulfed completely," said evacuee Alex Vierra.

The first of the Saturday night fires was in the 6900 block of Fountain Avenue, where a car was set ablaze. The flames did not spread beyond the car, and no one was injured.

Damion Stephens, a resident of the building, ran outside after he heard someone banging on a door.

"It's actually really upsetting because this is just a working class neighborhood, and some of these people don't have full coverage on their insurance, and they're just stuck. They're without a car for now, and it's not a good way to start the new year," Stevens said.

Another fire was reported just a short distance away in the 1300 block of Citrus Avenue. A third fire was reported on Hollywood Boulevard and Orange Drive, and a fourth fire was reported at the intersection of Hawthorn and Formosa avenues. At about 7 p.m., crews also knocked down a fire at 6100 Hollywood Blvd.

Police are looking for a mid-1990s white or tan Lexus with a male driver believed to be tied to Saturday's fires.

A $60,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest. Anyone with information is urged to call 911.

See photos of the fire damage in Hollywood and North Hollywood.