More car fires hit LA on New Year's

Four more car fires broke out in the Los Angeles area New Year's Eve, leaving authorities to probe for links to a series of arson blazes that burned dozens of cars and spread to some structures.

By , Associated Press

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    Los Angeles Fire Department firefighters help a man out of his apartment along with a cage of birds as multiple cars burn in a carport in the Sun Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011.
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Four more car fires broke out in the Los Angeles area New Year's Eve, leaving authorities to probe for any links to a series of arson blazes that burned dozens of cars and spread to some structures in recent days.

In a sobering counterpoint to the typical revelry of the night, fire trucks were stationed in neighborhoods, police patrolled the city, switchboards took hotline calls and thousands in rewards were offered.

Firefighters quickly put out a car fire at about 6 p.m. Saturday in Hollywood that "fits the profile of concern" authorities have been following for the arsons, fire department spokesman Brian Humphrey said.

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A crew of 10 put out the fire in minutes. The flames did not spread beyond the car and no one was injured. Humphrey could not immediately say how the fire started.

Later at the Hollywood and Highland complex, a popular destination for holiday revelers, firefighters responded to a small car fire in a parking structure that was out by the time they arrived, Humphrey said.

He said only that the fire was under investigation, and could not say whether it was thought to be arson or tied to the others.

Shortly before 9 p.m., firefighters made quick work of two car fires in a carport in West Hollywood. Fire dispatch supervisor Robert Diaz says the fires were put out before they could spread. There was no word if they were linked to the arson fires.

But the fires resembled more than a dozen set before dawn Saturday, mostly in North Hollywood, and nearly two dozen fires set in and around Hollywood a day earlier.

Though some of the fires spread and damaged homes and apartments, none have brought injuries. Still, some residents were on edge as authorities ramped up efforts to catch the culprit or culprits on a night when police and fire resources are always stretched thin as drunken New Year's revelers hit the town.

"We're pulling out all the stops," Humphrey said. "We're hoping that the person or people responsible will be brought to swift and complete justice."

Firefighters were to be stationed around the city to respond to emergencies, while authorities set up a hotline and pored through tips. Authorities also were interviewing witnesses, looking at video footage for clues and have announced at least $35,000 in rewards for information leading to a conviction.

Among the most pressing questions: Were the fires set by a serial arsonist, multiple people or copycats? And why target cars, apparently at random?

"It's really unnerving," said Gary Joseph, one of several neighbors who stood looking at the frames of four badly charred vehicles in a carport in North Hollywood. Joseph said there was no way to stow his own car and keep it safe.

"It's partly exposed, but there's nothing I can do about it," he said.

Sheila Kirk, who lives in the building next to the Hollywood freeway where the four cars were torched, said she quickly realized when she was awakened before dawn that the arson spree had spread to her neighborhood, though it's several miles northeast of where the fires were set the previous night.

"We'd heard all about the fires in Hollywood and West Hollywood, then we heard what sounded like a giant hose and ran downstairs and found everything burning," said Kirk, whose own car had a partly melted bumper despite being some 30 feet away from the cars that were set on fire. "It looks like they chose the spot where the cars were bunched together so they could do the most damage. Thank God no one got hurt."

Neighbors and gawkers gathered to take cellphone pictures of the wreckage, and the smell of burnt plastic still hung in the air hours after the fire.

Kirk said she felt no safer because her building had already been struck.

"You don't know, you just don't know," she said. "When you're dealing with crazy people, who knows what they're going to do?"

While few clues have emerged publicly, officials have speculated that it's plausible that one person in a car, on a motorcycle or on a bike could have set all the fires, considering the limited area the blazes broke out in, but know they could be looking for multiple suspects.

Police said they were looking for a man who was driving a mid-1990s Lexus sedan, but offered no further description or details.

Fire officials also have yet to set a damage figure for the blazes. In West Hollywood alone, they said flames destroyed about $350,000 worth of property.

Also early Saturday some 25 miles to the south in an unincorporated section of Los Angeles, arson detectives from the Sheriff's Department investigated a fire that destroyed eight vehicles, damaged six more, destroyed a carport and damaged an apartment building.

No evidence has been found linking that fire to those in the Hollywood area, Sheriff's Sgt. Joe Acevedo said in a statement.

AP reporter Terry Tang contributed from Phoenix.

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