California's Palisades Fire grows to more than 1,300 acres as possible arson suspect questioned


(LOS ANGELES) -- An arrest has been made in a raging Southern California wildfire that authorities suspect was started by an arsonist remained out-of-control on Monday, fueled by drought-parched trees and brush that have not burned in about 75 years authorities said on Monday.

The so-called Palisades Fire in the Santa Monica Mountains in Los Angeles County nearly doubled in size overnight to 1,325 acres and was 0% contained, according to fire officials. At least 1,000 people are under mandatory evacuation.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas announced at a news conference Monday that one person has been arrested in connection with the blaze.

"We feel we have the right person," Terrazas said.

Citing an ongoing investigation, Terrazas declined to release details about the suspect or say what led to his arrest. He said the suspect, who was detained for questioning on Saturday and placed under arrest Monday, is being treated at a hospital for smoke inhalation.

He said a second person was also questioned about the fire, but was released and is not a suspect.

About 540 firefighters are battling flames in rugged, steep terrain on the ground and from the air, but have struggle to get a handle on the blaze threatening 500 homes, many of them multimillion-dollar residences.

Air-tankers and helicopters have been used to drop water and fire retardant in remote areas inaccessible to firefighters on the ground, officials said. But Terrazas said the air-tankers were grounded Monday morning due to low clouds.

Terrazas said the air-tankers are not cleared to fly until the cloud ceiling lifts to 4,000 feet. He said the cloud ceiling over the fire area was at 2,500 feet on Monday morning.

LAFD Battalion Chief Al Ward told reporters during a news conference on Sunday that firefighters are focusing on the northeast flank of the fire, trying to prevent it from jumping a road and spreading into the more densely populated area of Topanga Canyon.

About 500 homes in the Topanga Canyon area are under mandatory evacuation.

Terrazas said no injuries have been reported and that no homes or structures have been destroyed by the blaze.

Ward said that on Saturday afternoon the fire was contained to about 100 acres, but south-southwest gusts of 15-25 mph caused the fire to flare up and quickly spread. He said fire grew from 100 acres to 750 acres in about an hour on Saturday and has been growing ever since.

The fire was first reported about 10 p.m. Friday behind a residential area and near a trail leading to Topanga State Park, officials said.

The Los Angeles Police Department said a police helicopter crew spotted what appeared to be a person setting fires in the area on Friday night.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Air Rescue 5 said on Twitter late Saturday night that a team was inserted into the "Topanga area in search of arson suspect setting fires."

The fire comes amid a early and potentially dangerous fire season in California. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire, said last week that California has already seen nearly 14,000 acres burn in more than 2,000 wildfires since the start of 2021, an increase of 700% over fire activity in 2020.

California is coming off a record year for wildfires in 2020, in which nearly 10,000 fires burned more than 4 million acres, destroyed more than 8,200 structures and killed 33 people, according to Cal Fire.

Monday, May 17, 2021 at 12:56PM by Bill Hutchinson, ABC News Permalink