Harry Burkhart, a 24-year-old German national reportedly in a dispute with federal immigration officials, has been identified as the suspected arsonist responsible for setting 53 fires around Los Angeles.
Burkhart's identity was announced by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was flanked by police, fire and elected officials at a Monday evening news conference at a downtown fire station. Burkhart has been booked on one felony count of arson, but police said more charges would follow.
Authorities revealed few details about the investigation. They declined to discuss Burkhart's possible motive or how he allegedly set the fires that burned cars and carports in Hollywood, West Hollywood, North Hollywood and other neighborhoods. Property damage totals were estimated to be in the $3 million range.
"As we speak, search warrants are being served at this individual's residence," said Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck. "We will know much more tomorrow than we know today. We have to proceed with caution."
Beck said investigators have much more evidence to compile before they present the case to the District Attorney for formal charges to be filed.
"We are confident in our investigation, but we have a long way to go," Beck said.
A specific location of Burkhart's residence was not released but an LAPD official, when asked after the news conference, said Burkhart lived on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
Burkhart was booked into County Jail at 1:48 p.m. Monday and his bail was set at $250,000, jail records show.
The Los Angeles Times is reporting that investigators began to focus on Burkhart after receiving a tip from an official at the U.S. State Department, who told police that the suspect "had attended a recent immigration hearing regarding his mother's case and erupted in a tirade, spewing angry anti-American statements."
The Times quoted a "senior LAPD official" who said Los Angeles detectives "were also investigating reports that either Burkhart or a family member was connected to an arson case in Germany."
Police said Burkhart, a burly man with a ponytail, matched the appearance of a white male seen on Sunday night, and on other surveillance videos gathered from some of the fire scenes.
volunteer reserve Deputy Shervin Lalezary, a Beverly Hills attorney who works as a reservist for $1 a year, spotted Burkhart driving a dark blue minivan at about 3 a.m. Monday on Sunset Boulevard near Fairfax Avenue. A traffic stop was made and Burkhart was detained. (See Video.)
Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Jaime Moore said 11 arson fires were set in the Hollywood area between midnight and the time Burkhart was stopped.
"There's so much more work to be done," said LAPD Commander Andrew Smith. "We've got a bunch of clues, a bunch of leads, more people to interview, search warrants to execute. Our guys will be working around the clock. They'll be working for many days on this case."
Los Angeles County Fire Chief Brian Cummings asked communities to remain vigilant.
"If you see something, say something," Cummings said. "The information from the public, from what they were observing over the past four days and the tips they called in, were critical in getting us information and being able to respond quickly to these incidents and to resolve them quickly without further loss of life or property damage."
City News Service contributed to this story.
Patch's Complete Coverage of the Arson Fires: