Evacuation Orders Lifted for Palisades Fire; Arson Suspect Arrested and Identified as 48-Year-Old Homeless Man
Fire containment was 32% as of Tuesday morning
May 20, 2021
May 19, 2021 The Los Angeles County Fire Department lifted evacuation orders for residents of Pacific Palisades at 1:00 pm Tuesday afternoon. Earlier that day, they lifted evacuation orders for residents of Topanga Canyon as an air assault on the brush fire appeared to gain them control over it.
On Sunday, a suspect was arrested in connection with the fire that burned over the weekend and through Tuesday. His identity was withheld until Tuesday. Ramon Santos Rodriguez, 48, a homeless individual, was detained on suspicion of arson. Upon his arrest, he was treated for smoke inhalation. Currently, he is being held on $75,000 bail.
Speculation locally had been rife that the culprit was a convicted arsonist on probation who makes his home in the Palisades bluffs, paints himself red, and makes fire pits with incendiary materials amid the brush there. That individual is not the person arrested in this case.
Another suspect, who was not identified, was questioned but released on Saturday.
Regarding Rodriguez, Erik Scott, a LA Fire Department spokesman, told ABC7 that, "Helicopter pilots had seen him make multiple sets and ID'ed him starting additional fires. So in fact we did have him, not just as an arson suspect, but were able to completely ID and confirm that, and that's why we arrested him."
"The LAFD Arson Counterterrorism Section, along with LAPD, have aggressively pursued all tips and all leads," said Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas. At a press conference yesterday, Terrazas claimed he "didn't know" if the suspect was homeless. At the time, the investigation was ongoing.
As of Tuesday morning, the fire that started Friday night was 32% contained. Evacuation orders were lifted for Topanga residents and residents were able to use Topanga Canyon Boulevard, which is to be opened to the public at 1 pm today. Evacuation orders remain in place, however, for residents of the north portion of the Palisades Highlands. A thousand residents had to be evacuated for the fire which has so far burned 1,158 acres. Better mapping decreased an earlier estimate of 1,325 acres.
Tuesday morning's incident report reads, "Firefighters made significant overnight progress on this fire. Containment lines were improved and firefighters were able to make acces to remote areas of the fire to mop-up." Fire officials attributed their success on Monday, after a full weekend of zero containment, on a "combined aerial and ground attack." In an earlier tweet, the County Fire Department said the lifting of cloud cover enabled them to use fixed wing planes for water dumps for the first time since the fire began. 540 firefighters from various Southern California agencies have helped to put down this conflagration.
The fire began as two separate blazes near the Santa Ynez Falls hiking trail. Later a third blaze ignited. "Any time you have multiple points of origin, your first thought is, 'This is not natural,'" Chief Terrazas said, explaining the suspicion of arson. In addition, a police helicopter spotted a person apparently setting fires on Friday night. The fire grew from 100 to 750 acres over Saturday night and continued to grow until the planes started to help Monday afternoon.