Man charged with 2 counts of arson in connection with Palisades fire

A helicopter prepares to drop water on the brush fire in Pacific Palisades
A tanker helicopter prepares to make a water drop on a brush fire near homes in Pacific Palisades.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has charged a man with two counts of arson in connection with the Palisades fire, which forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes.

Ramon Santos Rodriguez, 48, is accused of igniting the blaze Friday.

Containment of the fire climbed to 32% Tuesday afternoon, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. More accurate mapping showed the total acreage destroyed is 1,158 — less than original LAFD reports had indicated.

All evacuation orders for Topanga Canyon residents were lifted Monday evening, and evacuation warnings for Los Angeles homes near the Palisade fire ended Tuesday at 1 p.m. Traffic also resumed on Topanga Canyon Boulevard. All backcountry roads in Topanga State Park remain closed, according to California State Parks.

The blaze began just after 10 p.m. Friday in the 1800 block of North Michael Lane in a remote neighborhood of Pacific Palisades, steps away from the Trailer Canyon Trailhead, LAFD officials said. LAFD firefighters swarmed the area on the ground and in the air, dropping water on the hard-to-reach hillside.


On Saturday morning, an LAFD helicopter pilot noticed a man moving through dry brush near the fire, according to an LAFD news release. A Los Angeles police helicopter was deployed to the area, and an officer spotted the man igniting multiple fires, the release said.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies then joined the search for the suspect in the hilly terrain, but the rapidly spreading fire forced them to retreat, the release said.

By Saturday afternoon, another fire had emerged north of the original burn, exploding to 750 acres by nightfall.

Authorities arrested Rodriguez about 2:30 p.m. Sunday, and he was treated at a hospital for minor smoke inhalation issues.

He was the second suspect detained. The first — Devin Hilton, a man mistakenly identified on Citizen App as the person who started the fire — was released after questioning. The LAPD observer in the helicopter confirmed Hilton was not the person seen on the hillside igniting the blaze.

Over the course of Sunday, the fire grew and forced the evacuation of about 1,000 people near Topanga Canyon Road. Though 710 structures were threatened by the blaze, no lives or buildings were lost, according to an LAFD report Tuesday. Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said in a briefing Monday that one firefighter sustained a minor injury.

Rodriguez, who is transient, was previously misidentified by LAFD as Ramon Rodriguez Flores, according to the district attorney’s office spokesman.

Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino, a candidate for mayor, pointed to a rise in fires among encampments in Los Angeles. Fires related to homelessness occurred at a rate of 24 a day in the first quarter of 2021, making up more than 50% of all LAFD fire calls.

“Allowing unregulated sprawling encampments is not compassionate, it’s reckless,” Buscaino said in a statement. “That’s why we must act now on passing regulations that will return the rights of every Angeleno to enjoy our public spaces, and prohibit encampments whenever people are offered shelter.”

Councilman Mike Bonin also issued a statement condemning the alleged crime and emphasizing that Rodriguez’s housing status should not be considered a factor.

“Arson is a crime committed by an individual, and not by a person’s housing status,” he wrote. “Suggesting the suspect’s housing status is a contributing factor to the crime is irresponsible, and implies other people experiencing homelessness are inherently more dangerous or more likely to commit arson than housed people.”