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7th in Rash of Arsons Spurs Plea to Public

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Times Staff Writer

Confronted by another intentionally set fire at a Los Angeles residential construction site, city fire officials pleaded for the public’s help Friday in their search for clues that could link a series of arson blazes.

“We need a break, we need the public’s help,” said Battalion Chief Bill Bisson, who announced that the latest fire had been set late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning at a 20-unit Canoga Park apartment construction site.

That brought to seven the number of similar arson fires during the past year, five of them in the San Fernando Valley. The blazes have caused a total of $10 million in damage.

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Fire officials staged their plea for help in catching the arsonists at the site of a Tuesday morning fire that caused $2.1 million damage and destroyed 60 units of a 114-unit condominium project in Northridge.

While the officials spoke, a group of fully outfitted firefighters stood in the background beside two fire engines, an arson unit truck and a ladder truck. Plainclothes arson investigators posted “We Tip” signs offering a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the arsonist. A Fire Department helicopter circled low overhead, within range of several television news cameras.

A task force of three arson investigators has been put on the case but has not uncovered any information linking the seven fires and has few leads as to who set them.

Bisson, a member of the task force, asked anyone who lives near the construction sites and may have seen suspicious-looking cars or persons in the area at the time of the blazes to contact the Fire Department immediately.

He also asked people living near other construction sites to keep an eye out for arsonists.

The first fire was set Jan. 1, 1984, at a Pacoima condominium project and was followed a week later by a fire at another Pacoima construction site.

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Subsequent fires were set at construction projects near Dodger Stadium, in West Los Angeles, Van Nuys and in Northridge.

Like the others, the Canoga Park fire was set late at night at a construction site that was in the “wrap stage”--when the wood frame is only partly wrapped in tar paper and not yet protected by dry wall.

Unlike the other fires, which caused damage ranging from $800,000 to over $2 million, the Canoga Park fire died shortly after it was set and caused only minor damage.

Bisson said investigators are checking to see if any of the projects share a common insurance carrier, bank or contractor and whether there were any similarities in financial or labor problems.

The arson investigator refused to comment on the method used to set the fires.

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