Arson suspect arrested as crews continue to battle Pacific Palisades wildfire

pacific palisades wildfire
Posted at 11:38 AM, May 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-17 14:38:39-04

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. (CNS) - An arson suspect was in custody Monday in connection with the 1,325-acre brush fire that has been burning in Pacific Palisades since Friday night, authorities announced.

Los Angeles Fire Department arson investigators and Los Angeles police had detained two people in connection with the fire, and one was questioned and released Saturday night. The other person was interviewed on Sunday and was then arrested, LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said at Monday morning briefing on the blaze.

"Regarding the cause, it is labeled suspicious," Terrazas said. "The LAFD Arson Counterterrorism Section, along with LAPD, have aggressively pursued all tips and all leads. I want to have a special thank you to the community that provided us those tips and leads. We have to work together as a community. This problem is so significant in terms of major brush fires.

"We count on those tips coming in, and then we vet the tips and we pursue investigations," Terrazas said. "And I'm happy to say that we did detain one person and released them and determined that the first person was not a suspect. The second person was arrested yesterday at 2:30 p.m. and is in custody. It is in an active investigation. I cannot give you any more details than that, but the person in custody we feel we have the right person."

Authorities did not release the name or age of the suspect, who, according to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, "is getting medical treatment right now."

An updated figure on the fire's size is expected to be released later Monday, according to Terrazas, who said no structures have been lost and the only injury as of Monday morning has been a "minor eye injury" to a firefighter.

About 540 firefighters have been assigned to battle the flames.

"While ... it's zero containment, that doesn't mean 100% out of control," Garcetti said. "We're holding lines ... There's no injuries reported, no structures under threat at this time. Evacuation orders of course have been issued on the county side, but no evacuation orders have been ordered in the city of Los Angeles."

Noting the cool and damp weather, Garcetti said: "The weather is our friend, but it's also our challenge. It's our friend because it caps the fire and the heat; as soon as it lifts it is something that is a big danger."

"Usually traditionally around 2 p.m. or so, a fire will see that lift and that's really when a fire takes off. That's what happened ... yesterday," he said. "But we have also the advantage of it holding that fire down. The problem and the challenge of it is when that inversion layer is here, it's very difficult to do those sort of air drops that we like to get in there to be more aggressive on this fire.

"This is very challenging terrain," Garcetti said. "As you've heard, this is about 75 years since we've had a fire there. Some of the brush is 20 to 30 feet high. We feel good in the northwest of this fire and the far southwest, but in kind of west-southwest towards Topanga Canyon (the goal) is to make sure that we can build that line and hold that line.

"Again, don't want anybody to feel there's imminent danger there, but we want to get that done hopefully before the cloud cover lifts today," Garcetti said. "And on the east we're working the three Rs -- the roads, the ridges and the rivers -- working boxing that in where we are, keep it from getting down whenever it comes to the river's edge and the bottom of those canyons and fights its way back up."

The fire began about 10 p.m. Friday in a hard-to-access canyon area in a remote area off Michael Lane and Palisades Court, the LAFD reported.

"By 6:30 a.m. on Saturday ... fire was estimated at 15 acres," Terrazas said. "Unfortunately, by 4:30 p.m., an additional burn area emerged north of the original fire. Within about one hour, the fire grew to 750 acres. By 1 p.m. (Sunday) ... the fire was estimated at 1,325 acres with zero percent containment. We do anticipate being on scene for the next several days until we achieve 100 percent containment and we do expect updated containment numbers this afternoon."

Terrazas warned hikers to stay away from the area while the firefighting effort was underway.

About 2 p.m. Sunday, an evacuation warning was issued in the city of Los Angeles for all homes north of Chastain Parkway in the 1500 block to Calle Del Cielo. The warning area includes Calle De Sarah, Calle Bellevista and all homes west of Calle Del Cielo and Ave Ashley up to the hills.

On Saturday, evacuations were ordered in two areas both in the county of Los Angeles, but not in the city.

Zone 4 encompasses residences east of Topanga Canyon Boulevard between the Community House and View Ridge Road, and Zone 6 is residences north of Entrada, south of Oakwood Drive and east of the Henry Ridge Motorway, according to Los Angeles County Fire Department officials.

Large animals can be taken to the Pierce College Equestrian Center at 6201 Winnetka Ave. in Woodland Hills. Small animals can be taken to the Agoura Animal Care Center, 29525 Agoura Hills Road.

Topanga Elementary Charter School, at 22075 Topanga School Road, will be temporarily closed beginning Monday due to air quality and safety concerns caused by the Palisades fire, the Los Angeles Unified School District reported.

Cool and damp weather has been helpful, but the terrain is rugged and hard to reach on foot, and the vegetation in the area is very dry and has not burned in decades, according to the LAFDs Margaret Stewart. Resources ae in place for any structural defense required, she said.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department sent strike teams and camp crews to the fight and its helicopters made water drops until they were "timed out" Sunday night, according to Dispatch Supervisor Michael Pittman.

Meanwhile, air quality officials extended a smoke advisory through at least Monday due to large amounts of smoke billowing near homes in the area and advised those who smell smoke or see ash to limit exposure by remaining indoors with windows and doors closed and avoiding vigorous physical activity.

Los Angeles County fire officials reported that after the marine layer blew in, the visibility became too poor for fixed-wing aircraft, which had been productive. Helicopters continued to make water drops and the tankers previously succeeded at dropping retardant across the Topanga Fire Road to south along the left flank.

Topanga Canyon Boulevard was closed in both directions between Mulholland Drive and Pacific Coast Highway until further notice due to firefighting activity. The right lane of southbound PCH was also closed between Temescal Canyon Road and Chataqua Boulevard.

The threatened area of land to the west is within the State Responsibility Area, so the L.A. County Fire Department was involved in a unified command with the Los Angeles Fire Department and Cal Fire.