‘We feel we have the right person’: Los Angeles officials arrest suspect in Palisades Fire

Los Angeles officials said Monday that they have apprehended the person believed to have ignited the Palisades Fire in a mountainous area on the western part of the city.

The arson suspect was arrested Sunday at 2:30 p.m. near the fire zone after a previous person was detained and released, Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said at a Monday morning news conference.

“We feel we have the right person,” said Terrazas, adding that the fire’s cause has been deemed “suspicious” and is being investigated.

No other details about the suspect were released, except for Terrazas saying the person is getting treated for smoke inhalation.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the blaze, which broke out Friday night in the Santa Monica Mountains, was officially still at 1,325 acres with zero containment, though the tally for both is expected to grow. No injuries to residents or damage to property have been reported, but a firefighter has sustained a minor injury.

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About 1,000 people in the exclusive Pacific Palisades community near Topanga State Park are under mandatory evacuation orders and about 500 homes were threatened, officials said.

Windy, warm conditions Sunday afternoon spread the blaze and prompted authorities to warn several dozen more residents to be prepared to leave their homes.

A firefighting helicopter drops water on a brush fire scorching at least 100 acres in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles on Saturday, May 15, 2021. (Photo: Ringo H.W. Chiu, AP)

Nearby Topanga Canyon, a remote, wooded community with some ranch homes, is about 20 miles west of downtown Los Angeles, on the border with Malibu. Terrazas said the mountain vegetation in the area is very dry and hasn’t burned in more than 50 years.

Firefighters have had to rely mostly on air drops because of the difficulty in accessing the steep, rugged terrain. Even that approach was limited to helicopters overnight and in the morning as foggy conditions made flying airplanes with fire retardant too dangerous.

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Air quality officials issued a smoke advisory through at least Sunday afternoon because of the smoke billowing near homes in the area and advised those exposed to stay indoors.

Regardless of what caused the Palisades Fire, California officials and residents are bracing for a harsh 2021 fire season after a second consecutive winter of below-average precipitation left most of the state in drought conditions and millions of acres of terrain ready to burn.

“We normally don’t have this type of fire, this size of fire, in May,” Terrazas said. “I think we really have to think of brush fires as a year-round challenge. Yesterday when I woke up it was raining, and it was raining out here, and the fire is still burning.”

The 2020 fire season set records with nearly 10,000 blazes and 4.25 million acres burned – more than 4% of the state’s territory – damaging or destroying almost 10,500 structures.

“The fire season in California and across the West is starting earlier and ending later each year,” Cal Fire, the state’s wildfire prevention and fighting agency, says on its website, pointing to climate change as a major reason. “The length of fire season is estimated to have increased by 75 days across the Sierra and seems to correspond with an increase in the extent of the forest fires across the state.”

Contributing: Palm Springs Desert Sun; The Associated Press

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