Hollywood’s Trial By Fire
January 4, 2012 § 4 Comments
The fires started in the early morning hours of December 29th. The first broke out in the parking structure of an apartment building on N. Fuller, burning four cars and damaging an apartment above it. Then came three trash fires nearby, on N. Poinsettia, Sunset and McCadden. The arrests soon afterward–of a 22-year-old man, Samuel Arrington, in connection with the first two fires, and a 55-year-old man, Alejandro Pineda, in connection with the last–gave us reason to believe these baffling and unanticipated arsons had ended.
No such luck. The next night, December 30, saw 19 fires in Hollywood and West Hollywood. Most were started in carports and garages and spread to the apartments above them. But one of the fires, in Laurel Canyon, attracted notice because it burned a relatively out-of-the-way single-family home that once housed Jim Morrison of the Doors. As it happens, the current owner is an acquaintance of mine. She woke up to find her car on fire and flames spreading to the house and managed to escape, along with her cat. [Note: I’ve since found out she was renting the house.]
By New Year’s Eve, Hollywood and West Hollywood were on high alert. I was surrounded by patrol cars as I drove north on La Cienega at 10pm, and found Hollywood Boulevard lined with more police cars than cabs. On Argyle, there seemed to be as many uniformed officers as revelers. Nevertheless, that night the fires spread to the Valley, with others in West Hollywood.
On New Year’s Day, there was only one reported fire. It took place in the Valley and apparently wasn’t related to the others. The arsons resumed on January 2nd with 11 fires, 9 in the Valley and two in West Hollywood. There probably would have been more if not for the arrest of the suspect, 24-year-old Harry Burkhart, by a quick-thinking reserve sheriff’s deputy at Sunset and Fairfax at 3am. Burkhart, a German national who was captured on video leaving the scene of a fire in the parking garage of Hollywood and Highland, was found with fire-starting materials in his van. He has been charged with 37 counts of arson.
The rampage followed Burkhart’s outburst in the courtroom where his mother, 53-year-old Dorothee Burkhart, has been fighting extradition to Germany, where she is wanted on multiple fraud charges. A Russian who speaks limited German, Ms. Burkhart apparently is a career grifter known in Germany for taking deposits for apartments she did not own, and for bilking the surgeon who augmented her breasts. During her time in Los Angeles, she started a business offering “sensual Tantra massage” in the Sunset Blvd. apartment she shared with her son. In court yesterday, she described him as “mentally ill” and, according to the LA Times, “appeared disoriented without her son at her side.”
Meanwhile, Harry Burkhart has earned the nickname “Hollywood Feuerteufel”–“Hollywood Fire Devil–in the German press. He is on suicide watch, and his bond was set at $2.85 million.
As for Hollywood, things are quieter now than they were during the arsons, when sirens and helicopters were heard all night long. But when a fire truck roared up Beachwood Canyon earlier this evening, sirens blaring, I felt an all-too-familiar dread.