Authorities have surveillance footage showing the suspected arsonist in last December's spectacular downtown L.A. apartment complex fire parking his vehicle on the 110 Freeway and walking into the half-built structure with cans of fuel, a fire official told a community group.
Los Angeles Fire Department Battalion Chief Steve Ruda last week informed members of Echo Park's neighborhood council of new details about the fire, which caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. He said the suspect was still at large.
Officials have offered a $170,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of the arsonist behind the blaze that consumed a seven-story building in the Da Vinci apartment complex and damaged the freeway and neighboring buildings.
Investigators believe the suspect "torched that building up from the freeway side and then escaped,” Ruda told the audience of about 20, according to a recording made by an audience member.
Ruda referred questions to fire spokesman Peter Sanders, who said in an email: "To protect the integrity of the investigation, I can neither confirm nor deny what Chief Ruda said last week."
"The investigation into the cause of the Da Vinci fire is ongoing. The LAFD, in conjunction with its law enforcement partners, continues to review surveillance video from multiple sources and pursue multiple leads in this case. To protect the integrity of the investigation, we cannot at this time discuss details of the evidence collected thus far," he said.
The Dec. 8 fire broke out about 1:20 a.m., sending towering flames into the night sky and spewing ash across a large swath of downtown. The fire rapidly consumed most of the wood-framed structure. More than 250 firefighters battled the blaze for about an hour and half. No injuries were reported.
Fire officials said in the immediate aftermath of the fire that the circumstances, including how quickly the building was engulfed, were suspicious. City officials have estimated that the fire caused between $25 million and $30 million in damage.
Authorities have previously released footage of two other passersby whom they said they wanted to interview as potential witnesses – one was shown on video walking by the building before the fire started, and a second tried to climb a fence to get into the burning building and had to be deterred by firefighters. Officials have not released footage of the person with the fuel cans.
At last week’s meeting, Ruda assured residents that arson investigators, working with agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, were pressing ahead in their effort to identify and capture the suspect.
“If you think that you’re going to be in the cover of darkness,” Ruda said as he discussed the video footage, “there’s always somebody watching.”