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Man suspected of arson in Hermosa Beach fire cleared; another man arrested

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Embers swirl as firefighters battle a blaze that engulfed a home in Hermosa Beach and damaged four others early Thursday.
(Kyle Simpson)

Hermosa Beach police have cleared a man they arrested Thursday on suspicion of arson and arrested a new suspect in connection with a blaze that destroyed a beachfront house and damaged four others.

Police said the man they arrested Thursday, Michael Christopher Kotva, was not responsible for the fire and was released without charges. Police initially identified Kotva based on witnesses who described seeing a man matching his description walk out of the structure just as the fire ignited.

But when police officers reviewed surveillance video from the scene of the fire, they “immediately recognized the arson suspect as Keith Yessner,” a man who had had previous contacts with Hermosa Beach police, Sgt. Mick Gaglia said.

Police searched the area, found Yessner near Beach Drive and 16th Court and arrested him late Thursday without incident.

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Authorities believe the fire started about 2 a.m. Thursday near 8th Street and Hermosa Avenue, chewing through the wooden frame of a three-story under-construction house and four others packed along the beachfront path known as the Strand.

Witnesses described a small fire that quickly exploded into an inferno. Fire officials called it a “massive fireball” that was fueled in part by the piles of lumber on the property.

It took about 75 firefighters about an hour to knock down the flames. One firefighter was taken to a hospital for minor injuries.

javier.panzar@latimes.com

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@jpanzar


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