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Suspected L.A. arsonist arrested; area hasn’t burned in more than 50 years

by Faith Pinho, Los Angeles Times |

An arson investigation into the Pacific Palisades Fire, which started late Friday in the western portion of Los Angeles, has led to the arrest of a suspect in connection with the blaze, authorities said Monday.

Two people were questioned Saturday night about the fire, which has forced the evacuation of about 1,000 residents. One person was released, and the other — a man who has not been identified — was arrested Sunday afternoon, Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said at a briefing at Will Rogers State Beach.

“The person in custody – we feel we have the right person,” Terrazas said.

The man was being treated for smoke inhalation, authorities said.

The official span of the fire is still at 1,325 acres, but it was unclear whether the blaze had spread overnight because the morning cloud cover temporarily grounded helicopters from flying over the burn area, authorities said.

More than 500 personnel are actively fighting the fire, according to Terrazas, who said no lives or homes have been lost. One firefighter suffered a minor injury.

The fire was first reported Friday when “information from an LAPD helicopter who saw something from the sky” came in, Terrazas said. The chopper pilot noticed the fire burning in more than one place, and any time you have multiple points of origin, the chief said, that is suspicious.

The blaze ignited about 10 p.m. Friday in the 1800 block of North Michael Lane in a remote neighborhood of Pacific Palisades, steps away from the Trailer Canyon Trailhead, LAFD officials said. Cornered in a hard-to-reach terrain of the canyon, the fire grew to 15 acres overnight. Firefighting helicopters swarmed into the area, dropping water on the blaze.

But at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, another fire emerged north of the original burn, LAFD reported, exploding to 750 acres by nightfall. The blaze was concentrated among thick chaparral dried out from a lack of rainfall, authorities said. Firefighters clambered over canyons in the Pacific Palisades to fight back the flames, but most of the containment measures came from helicopters.

By Sunday afternoon, the fire swelled to 1,325 acres and forced the evacuations of about 1,000 people near Topanga Canyon Road. More than 500 Topanga residences still face potential threat, L.A. County fire officials said. The blaze has not crossed vital roads, ridges or rivers that protect homes, officials said.

The fire continued unabated Monday morning, and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said he expected firefighters would be battling it for two or three more days.

Los Angeles County and city firefighting units received help from neighboring Ventura County Fire Department and Orange County Fire Authority, as well as the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Topanga Canyon Boulevard from Pacific Coast Highway to Mulholland Drive remained closed to commuters Monday morning.

A large animal evacuation center has been set up at Pierce College.

Terrazas noted that the drizzle, high humidity and low windspeed Sunday morning didn’t affect the spread of the fire. Some of the vegetation in the area hasn’t burned for more than 50 years, he said.

“Yesterday, when I woke up, it was raining. And it was raining out here. And the fire still burned. And that’s unusual,” Terrazas said Monday. “That tells you that the drought, that the years that have gone by since the last fire – sometimes as long as 75 years – have changed the equation.”