NEWS

L.A. Arson Suspect Lived In B.C.

01/03/2012 12:07 EST | Updated 03/04/2012 05:12 EST

A man accused of an arson rampage in Los Angeles lived in Vancouver for at least two years, a Vancouver doctor says.

Harry Burkhart, 24, has been arrested in connection with more than 50 arson attacks in the L.A. area over the last week.

The doctor, who does not want to be named, said Burkhart and his mother lived in Vancouver and were patients of hers between 2008 and 2010.

Television news footage of the arrest shows Burkhart was driving a mini-van with British Columbia licence plates.

Police in L.A. have not confirmed any connection to the Canadian province.

They say Burkhart is from Frankfurt, Germany, but they didn't know how long he's been in the United States and said he isn't co-operating with them. He is being held without bail.

Arrest halts arsons

The arrest of Burkhart halted a series of arson blazes that caused more than $3 million US in damage and kept Los Angeles residents on edge during the long holiday weekend.

Police have said nothing about a possible motive in the fires set across Hollywood, neighbouring West Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley.

A neighbour said the suspect's mother was having legal problems, but authorities wouldn't confirm reports that she may have faced deportation.

"We are very confident in this arrest, but we have a long way to go," said Police Chief Charlie Beck.

Sheriff Lee Baca called him the "most dangerous arsonist in Los Angeles County that I can recall."

Hundreds of investigators, police officers and firefighters raced to deal with the blazes in some of the most densely populated areas of the city. Police conducted extra patrols all weekend, and the noise of helicopters and sirens persisted virtually nonstop in Hollywood.

The blazes forced many apartment dwellers from their homes, but there were no serious injuries — one firefighter was hurt in a fall from a ladder, and another person suffered smoke inhalation.

The arrest came after another night that saw firefighters scrambling to snuff out the arson attacks. It began with a tip about a German man who matched the description of someone with a shoulder-length ponytail seen on a surveillance video near where a car fire had been reported.

Five hours later, Burkhart was pulled over by a reserve sheriff's deputy and subsequently booked for investigation of arson of an inhabited dwelling. Since the arrest, firefighters have not responded to any other suspicious fires.

While the investigation continues — authorities haven't ruled out the possibility that others might be involved — Burkhart's arrest was a measure of relief to anxious residents who had grown fearful after several nights of seemingly random blazes.

"Our long four-day nightmare is over," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

Galina Illarionova, who lives in the same apartment complex as the suspect, told reporters through a Russian translator that an agitated Burkhart visited her Sunday and said his mother was having some kind of legal problems.

He told her his mother was in trouble with authorities and wanted Illarionova to attend a legal hearing with him, but he later said he didn't need her help.

Deputy pulled over Burkhart's van

One of Baca's reserve deputies, Shervin Lalezary, pulled over Burkhart's van sought by arson investigators shortly after 3 a.m. local time.

Lalezary, who works as an attorney and gets paid $1 a year to serve as a reserve deputy, said was glad he helped out. "I'm ecstatic that law enforcement gets to shine a little bit," he told reporters.

Most of the fires began in cars, and authorities have not said how they were started.

One of Saturday's fires occurred at the Hollywood and Highland entertainment complex, a popular tourist destination bordered by the Walk of Fame in a neighbourhood that includes Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Damaged buildings included a former home of Doors singer Jim Morrison in Laurel Canyon. Despite the arrest, authorities continued to urge vigilance.

"We're not resting, and we're not stopping" the extra patrols, police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said. "If you have lights in your carport area, keep them on tonight."

Some other deliberately set fires were reported Thursday in Hollywood, and two people were arrested. But police said Monday that those suspects were not connected with the 52 other blazes.

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