Skip to main content

Man charged with arson in case of California fires

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 11:04 PM EST, Mon January 2, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Authorities believe the suspect is a foreign national from Germany
  • Harry Burkhart, 24, was charged with one count of arson of an inhabited dwelling
  • He will likely face more charges as the investigation continues, the mayor says
  • The fires caused some $3 million in damages

Los Angeles (CNN) -- A 24-year-old man was charged Monday with arson in connection with a rash of car and building fires across the Los Angeles area, authorities said.

Harry Burkhart was charged with one count of arson of an inhabited dwelling and will likely face additional charges as the investigation moves forward, said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Arson investigators counted 52 fires, most starting in parked cars, since Friday morning, but none since the man was was detained at 3 a.m. Monday, according to officials.

Burkhart is currently being held without bail.

"These were serious and potentially deadly crimes that needlessly endangered thousands of innocent lives," Villaraigosa told reporters. "These crimes will not be tolerated."

Burkhart is believed to a foreign national from Germany, according to Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck.

Authorities hope, and believe one arsonist acted alone, but will behave as though he did not until they know for sure, Beck said.

Burkhart's arrest came when a sheriff's deputy stopped a van near the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue in Hollywood early Monday, said Los Angeles Fire Capt. Jaime Moore. The van matched the description of a vehicle believed related to some of the suspicious fires and the driver resembled a man seen in a surveillance video near the scene of one fire, he said.

The video showed a man who appears to be in his late 20s to mid-30s, with a ponytail, dark hair and a receding hairline.

No one was killed or seriously injured in the fires, though one firefighter and one civilian sustained minor injuries, said Los Angeles City Fire Chief Brian Cummings. Both he and the mayor estimated the fires caused some $3 million in damages.

Among the homes damaged was one that was once occupied by the Doors frontman Jim Morrison.

Eleven of the fires took place overnight, in the very early hours of Monday: nine within the city of Los Angeles and two in West Hollywood, fire department spokesman Cecco Secci said.

Cars were set on fire in Hollywood and Van Nuys, Moore said.

Los Angeles has not seen such a rash of fires since the city's riots in 1992.

CNN's Irving Last, Josh Levs, Drew Griffin, Stan Wilson and Casey Wian contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT