Police holding "person of interest" in string of Hollywood car arsons; Update: "Evidence and materials" found in suspect's van, says PD

While most of us celebrated the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, people living in the Hollywood, CA area spent the weekend standing guard over their cars, thanks to an arsonist who may have more than 50 fires aimed at cars and carports, starting Friday. Police and firefighters flooded the streets in an attempt to catch the arsonist(s) and get to fires quickly, but it may have been a surveillance camera that cracked the case. Police announced that they have a “person of interest” in custody that matched the description of a shadowy figure from a grainy surveillance recording near one of the fires:

The individual, believed to be the man seen in a video police released Sunday in connection with the case, was detained near Sunset Boulevard this morning, according to an LAPD source familiar with the investigation.

However, in a statement, a Los Angeles fire official said that “it is too early to speculate if this person is responsible for the spree of arson fires.” …

The detention follows an early-morning frenzy of arson fires across the Hollywood area on Monday. Eleven fires were reported in two hours, beginning at 1:30 a.m., most to cars and carports in apartment complexes, police and fire officials said.

It was unclear early Monday if the fires were connected to a string of arsons in the Hollywood area.

Officials said Sunday that they have linked at least 39 fires to those arsons, which began Friday morning.

Hopefully they have the right person in custody, although we won’t know that until either (a) the police announce that they have a confession and/or evidence conclusively linking him to the fires, or (b) the arsons mysteriously stop overnight. Before this suspect got arrested, almost a dozen more fires were set in the Hollywood area.

Why cars and carports? California has a well-earned reputation for having a love affair with automobiles, but that’s out of necessity, especially in a sprawling metropolis like the greater Los Angeles area. The decentralization requires personal transportation, but there is certainly a level of hostility to that fact of life. The targeting seems purposeful and rational — exposed cars in carports and not in attached garages, where fires could spread and have a greater risk of killing people — which implies that the motive could be something more rational than your average firebug impulse.

Update: The LAPD says that they discovered “evidence and materials” in the suspect’s minivan that leads them to believe he’s at least involved:

Los Angeles Police Department detectives found materials that could have been used to set fires inside the minivan of a “person of interest” detained for questioning in the recent string of L.A. arson fires, law enforcement sources told The Times.

The sources did not reveal details but said detectives confiscated “evidence and materials” that suggest the individual had the ability to ignite some or all of the blazes.

Little is known about the man. Sources said the the minivan had Canadian license plates but that detectives believe the man might originally be from Germany.

Let’s hope they have the right man and that the fires have stopped for good, but it’s better not to assume so.  Residents in the area apparently still plan on keeping watch, which is also a good idea.