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Arson Suspect Arrested in Pacific Palisades Fire

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Investigation into the Pacific Palisades fire led to the arrest of a suspect on May 16. The suspect was charged with two counts of arson in connection to the fires. 

The fire had devastated over 1,325 acres of land and led to the evacuation of over 1,000 residents from their homes in the surrounding area. 

According to the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD), the fire started in dry vegetation that hadn’t burned in 50 years. Nevertheless, LAFD deemed the fire suspicious in nature.

The investigation into the Pacific Palisades fire began on May 14. Two suspects were questioned about the fire on May 15. One was released, and the other would later be arrested the next day. 

A source told the LA Times that the arrested suspect was “experiencing homelessness” and “set multiple fires in the area in a deliberate act of arson.” 

The released suspect, Devin Hilton, was falsely accused through the Citizen App as the one responsible for the fires. An LAPD helicopter pilot later confirmed that Hilton was not the person responsible. 

The Citizen App is a mobile app that functions as an online neighborhood watch program. The app promoted a $30,000 reward for any information about the suspect. People posted pictures and reports on the suspect on the app.

This prompted LAPD to detain Hilton, but he was later released. The false accusation of Hilton caused the Citizen App to receive backlash on Twitter. 

Los Angeles-based comedian Kathy Griffin expressed criticism for the app in a Tweet posted on May 16.

“I’ve turned against the Citizen [App]. The hosts are offering a $30K reward for completely unsubstantiated evidence regarding a homeless guy who they think started the #Palisadesfire. Now people are trying to hunt him down. No proof it was even arson much less this guy,” Griffin said.

The arrested suspect was later identified as 48-year-old Ramon Santos Rodriguez. Rodriguez was being treated for minor smoke inhalation at a nearby hospital.

Rodriguez was charged with two counts of arson by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office for his connection to the Palisades fire. 

Rodriguez is being held at a bond of $75,000, according to booking records

The fire began near 1807 North Michael Lane in Pacific Palisades at around 10 p.m. on May 14. Suitable weather conditions allowed the fire to span over 15 acres overnight. 

By the afternoon of May 15, offshore winds pushed the fire further, burning over 750 acres by the end of the day. 

The rough terrain made it difficult for the LAFD to contain the fire. Helicopter buckets were used to drop water over the fire. Water was also used to contain the fire on the ground. 

The fire was fully contained by May 26, with the total burn area amounting to 1,202 acres. Displaced residents of the area were allowed to return to their homes on May 17. No injuries or damage to homes have been reported.

Henry Lopez is a City News intern for the spring 2021 quarter. He can be reached at henryel@uci.edu.