LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Authorities have identified the man arrested in connection to a rash of fires set across L.A. and the San Fernando Valley, according to authorities.
“Our long, four-day nightmare is over,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky announced at a news conference Monday.
Harry Burkhart, 24, was taken into police custody at approximately 3 a.m. Monday following a traffic stop in West Hollywood, officials said at a news conference Monday. The stop was made on Sunset Boulevard near Fairfax Avenue after an officer noticed the driver looked like a man seen on video at the scene of several fires.
Burkhart was driving a dark Dodge minivan with British Columbia license plates that matched the description of a vehicle possibly associated with the fires, police said.
“I didn’t see him up close . . . but it was definitely a male figure. There were other people who got up closer and took photos and stated how he was actually smiling at the cameras. That was just a very eerie feeling,” Sylvia de la Sancha told CBS2’s Louisa Hodge.
Authorities say “fire starting materials” were found in the minivan which police processed as evidence.
“I feel very good that we’ve got the right guy,” Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck said.”(The suspect) had the right stuff in his van, and we are very confident we found our man.”
A part-time reserve sheriff’s deputy was the official who apprehended Burkhart.
“Deputy Shervin Lalezary, standing next to me, [is] a full-time attorney and a part-time reserve deputy sheriff, although for the past four days he’s been working full time for $1 a year,” Sheriff Lee Baca said at a news conference Monday.
Lalezary stepped to the podium to describe the arrest: “Thank you to the two officers who backed me up. As soon as I put on my lights and initiated a traffic stop of the suspect vehicle, I had an LAPD vehicle behind me ready to go.”
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa credited the Los Angeles Police Department and the L.A. County Fire Department for their efforts over the 4-day period that the arsonist committed his crimes.
Sources say Burkhart is of German descent and his mother may have been deported last week.
A total of 53 fires were set in the Los Angeles area from Dec. 30 through Jan. 2, according to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The mayor warned any would-be arsonists against committing a similar crime.
“Know that we will find you, we will arrest you and we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law,” Villaraigosa said.
Officials estimate property damage to vehicles and structures to be about $2 million.
Authorities said the suspect has been seen at several of the locations where fires were started, including on a video that was released by police Sunday night.
While most officials seemed confident that this arrest marked the end of the fires, Villaraigosa and L.A. County Fire Chief Brian Cummings reminded residents to be alert for any further suspicious behavior.
“Arson has been and will continue to be a concern for the members of the American fire service,” Cummings said. “We must remain vigilent against this scurge that causes over $1 billion in damage and injures over 7,800 civilians and firefighters each year.”