Opinion: The arson fires and an appreciation for L.A.’s firefighters

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Hollywood residents are breathing easier, now that the sirens have quieted and the helicopters have stopped hovering over our streets. But we are still on edge, wondering if the arrest of Harry Burkhart, the 24-year-old Hollywood resident arrested in connection with the string of 53 arsons, actually means the end of the fires that terrorized our neighborhood over the holiday weekend. At a news conference earlier this evening Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck was cautiously optimistic.

As fires started up again on Saturday, my husband and I boxed up some of our belongings should we need to make a quick getaway and we put a fire ladder by the bed -- not that we got much sleep. Instead we followed #LAarson and @ArsonWatchLA on Twitter and refreshed L.A. Now’s coverage every 15 minutes through the weekend until Burkhart was detained at Fairfax Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. It’s a wonder that our street, with its many carports, was spared. The streets on either side of us were too. In all the nerve-wracking chaos, though, we felt remarkably safe, and thankful for the city’s tremendous effort.

It’s always stunning to see comments on our discussion boards that express blatant contempt for firefighters. People complain that firefighters are paid too much of the public’s money for doing too little work. Here are three such comments I came across last April:


I urge the public to stop by a firehouse during the afternoon and especially the evening to see exactly how their tax dollars are being spent. Bring a snack for the movies and energy for the video game marathons. --Ben Olguin Can you name an occupation where you spend the bulk of your time NOT doing your job? Firefighters are like bridge attendants: the majority of their is spent NOT doing their main duties. I mean, firefighters go grocery shopping, get little Fluffy from a tree,take Sparky the dog to schools for Fire Awareness Day, exercise, wash and wax their trucks, etc. Seriously, %-wise, in a typical work-week, how much of their generously-paid time do firefighters actually fight fires? The point being, this is not at all the doom-and-gloom scenario that the firefighters’ union and spend-at-all-costs politicians will make this out to be. Want proof? Drive by any fire station any hour of the day or night and see if anybody’s home and what they’re doing. --Leonard C. Marshman What do you call a fireman in the firehouse? A vacation. --Stanley

This past weekend’s arson fires show just how misguided these comments are. Our firefighters are our heroes.

On Monday, LAFD Fire Chief Brian Cummings expressed his thanks to ‘the men and women of the Los Angeles Fire Department and also the members of our allied command who worked tirelessly alongside us,’ and he pointed out: ‘Your firefighters minimized the impact that these horrendous acts had on our community through their coordinated efforts at the scene of 52 separate fires over a four-day period. The valiant efforts of your firefighters limited the loss to less than $3 million and ultimately prevented the loss of a single life.’

Gathered around the television, we nodded in agreement. We had what Sherriff Lee Baca described as ‘the most dangerous arsonist in Los Angeles County that I can recall,’’ setting our cars and homes on fire -- 11 in just 90 minutes on Jan. 2 -- and firefighters responded quickly, working tirelessly to contain the flames and keep us safe. For that, we are endlessly appreciative.


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--Alexandra Le Tellier