German faces multiple charges over LA arson spree

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A German man arrested after a four-day arson spree in Los Angeles over New Year has been charged on 37 counts of starting fires which "terrorized" Hollywood, prosecutors said Wednesday.

The charges were announced before a court appearance by Harry Burkhart, 24, over the spree of more than 50 blazes centered on the Hollywood district, which left the West Coast city on edge over the end-of-year holiday, they said.

"After reviewing the available evidence, we filed 28 counts of arson of property and nine counts of arson of an inhabited structure," said District Attorney Steve Cooley.

"The complaint also alleges that the arson was caused by use of a device designed to accelerate the fire .. If found true, the allegation could mean additional custody time for the defendant," he added.

"The string of fires terrorized residents of Hollywood and the Westside. No deaths or serious injuries were reported, but property damage to homes and automobiles was in the millions of dollars," added a statement by his office.

Burkhart, who is also wanted for alleged arson in Germany, was detained after a tip-off from the State Department, which was in contact with Berlin over an arrest warrant linked to him.

In all there were 53 deliberately-set fires in Hollywood and surrounding districts, causing millions of dollars in damage in the biggest arson spree since the 1992 LA riots.

No one was killed or seriously injured in the attacks, most of which targeted cars parked either outside homes or in car ports under apartment buildings.

Burkhart was arrested Monday after a massive manhunt. On Tuesday the State Department said it had tipped off LA police about Burkhart because he was linked to another German national sought by Berlin, believed to be his mother.

Two other people were arrested during the arson spree, but Burkhart is alleged to be involved in the vast majority of them.

"The investigation of the 52 fires believed connected to this defendant is not over. Appropriate action will be taken as further evidence is presented for our review," said Cooley.

"The current charges relate to arson fires at 13 locations in Hollywood, West Hollywood and Sherman Oaks between Dec. 30 and Jan. 2," he added.

Burkhart, who travels on a German passport, was staying with his mother in Hollywood at the time, the statement added.

She currently is in federal custody linked to a German provisional warrant for her arrest on fraud-related crimes, and her immigration/extradition cases are pending in federal court.

Burkhart had attended his mothers federal immigration hearing in Los Angeles on Dec. 29.

Dorothee Burkhart coincidentally told a judge in Los Angeles on Tuesday that her son was mentally ill, as she appeared in court, apparently unaware that her son had been arrested over the arson.

"Where is he? Dead? ... Maybe the German Nazi know our address," she said according to the LA Times newspaper, adding in broken English: "He is mental ill."

In Germany, prosecutors in the central city of Marburg said Wednesday that Harry Burkhart is also being investigated in his native country on charges of arson and fraud.

Authorities are looking into a fire that took place at a property in central Germany in October last year.

"When the fire was extinguished, there were indications of arson," said Annemarie Wied, the spokeswoman for the state prosecutor's office.

© 2012 AFP

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