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LA on edge after arson fires hit vehicles and homes in Hollywood area

Police in Los Angeles are searching for suspects after a string of 19 arson fires in the Hollywood area overnight. Investigators are asking the public for help in tracking down leads. NBC's George Lewis has more.

Update at 8:02 p.m. ET: Los Angeles officials say they'll pay at least $35,000 in rewards for information leading to the conviction of the arsonist or arsonists. County supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky says the county is offering a $25,000 reward and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is adding another $10,000.

Original post: LOS ANGELES -- Police and fire officials on Friday were scrambling to investigate a series of 19 arson fires that ripped through parked cars in Hollywood and West Hollywood overnight and spread to some nearby homes -- including one once occupied by Doors frontman Jim Morrison.

There were 13 vehicle fires within the borders of the city of Los Angeles, and another six in West Hollywood areas patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.


“We’ve called in additional investigative teams,” said Los Angeles Fire Capt. Jaime Moore. “The county has brought in L.A. County Sheriff arson bomb teams, and the LAPD is on tactical alert.”

We will "be preparing for what may be coming tonight," said Los Angeles County fire Battalion Chief Tom Sullivan.

Fire officials couldn't say whether the rash of fires was the work of a copycat. There was a series of other arson fires early Thursday, also in Hollywood. Two people have been arrested and remain in custody for those blazes, officials said.

On Friday, they scoured video from the parking garages where some of the cars were located in hopes of finding an image of whoever set the fires.

Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP

An investigator works the scene where fire caused damage to a two-story apartment at 1156 N. Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood, section of Los Angeles on Friday.

"This is an arsonist working," said LA City Fire Deputy Chief Mario D. Rueda. "These are very dangerous fires." So far, the only injury was to a firefighter injured in a fall, but Rueda warned that "these fires can lead to loss of life and injury."

West Hollywood Mayor John Duran heatedly spoke directly to the person or persons suspected of starting the fires.

“What were you thinking?” he said. “This is the most dense part of Los Angeles. If you’re trying to say something, this is not the way to say it.”

Investigators hoped to make enough progress Friday to prevent additional arson attacks tonight and over the holiday weekend.

The four-hour onslaught started shortly after midnight and sent firefighters scrambling to douse the flames. In nearly every case, the fire started in a parked car. Dozens of people were rousted from their homes, and power was disrupted in several neighborhoods.

One of the homes was in Laurel Canyon, where Morrison and his girlfriend once lived, neighbors said. The winding road was the inspiration for the Doors' hit "Love Street," and the 1922 house was listed for nearly $1.2 million earlier this year, according to real estate website Zillow.com.

Sandy Gendel, who owns a nearby restaurant, said he heard explosions from what he later determined were likely car tires. He saw flames 30 feet high coming from the deck of the former Morrison house and a gutted Mazda Miata.

"It was just like a towering inferno," Gendel said.

Mike Meadows / AP

A Los Angeles Fire Department engine arrives at a fire in the Laurel Canyon section of Los Angeles early Friday,

Jeff Dorman, who lives in the neighborhood, said he and his wife were awakened by noise in the street.

As he and his neighbors watched the firefight, he said they worried about embers floating toward their houses because they are so close together. They also were concerned about a firebug being loose in their neighborhood.

"One spark could have been a huge problem," Dorman said. "The fire department did a fantastic job."

Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents much of the Hollywood area where blazes were set, urged residents to call 911 or a fire hotline at 213-893-9800 if they have information about the fires, or if they see someone who appears to be preparing to set new fires.

This article includes reporting from Sharon Bernstein, Samantha Tata and Ashley Gordon at NBCLosAngeles.com and The Associated Press.