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JewishJournal.com

September 26, 2013

Sherman Oaks arsonist remains at large

http://www.jewishjournal.com/los_angeles/article/sherman_oaks_arsonist_remains_at_large

A rubbish fire badly damaged a vacant apartment building and left a pile of rubble in an alleyway in Sherman Oaks. Photo by Ryan Torok.

A rubbish fire badly damaged a vacant apartment building and left a pile of rubble in an alleyway in Sherman Oaks. Photo by Ryan Torok.

On Thursday, Itzchik Weinstein, walking on his way to Chabad of Sherman Oaks, passed by The Hair Studio, an upscale salon on Ventura Boulevard, between Colbath and Stern Avenues in Sherman Oaks, that had nearly caught on fire on the evening of Sept 25.

"Some lunatic -- meshugennah -- who is trying to get attention," Weinstein said of the unknown arsonist, who remains at large and is thought to be responsible for six rubbish fires Wednesday night, including one in an alleyway behind The Hair Studio.

The fires all were set off in trashcans in the area of the 13900 block of Ventura Boulevard, a largely Jewish neighborhood. The one behind the salon was considered the most destructive of the  fire, seriously damaging a vacant two-story apartment building that shares an alley with the salon. No one was injured in the fires, which also left a pile of burnt rubble in the salon's parking lot. A fire official said the damage from the six fires is estimated to be as high as $100,000.

Authorities are still looking for the person responsible for setting off the fires.

"The investigation related to these series of fires is ongoing," David Liske, senior arson investigator at the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD), said during a press conference outside the hair salon on Thursday morning.

All six fires occurred within close proximity, but Liske did not list their exact locations.

Around midnight on Thursday morning, the Los Angeles Police Department-Van Nuys division made an arrest in connection with the fires, based on "a solid description of a person-of-interest," Liske said. The arrestee turned out to have no connection to the fires, however.

Authorities have kept that individual in custody for an unrelated crime, Liske said.

Meanwhile, as of press time, authorities were continuing to search for the suspect -- Liske said they believe all of the fires were likely set by one person.

Authorities received the first report about a fire in Sherman Oaks at approximately 8:15 p.m. Wednesday. The fires were contained by 9:30 p.m., according to Liske.

There have been no subsequent fires today, following a "massive undertaking to try and arrest and stop the individual responsible for these fires," Liske said.

The neighborhood is home to many Jews of all levels of observance, including many Iranian Jews and Israelis. Many Jewish businesses operating in the neighborhood were closed through Saturday, in observance of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

Nearby business owners in the neighborhood expressed their disbelief at Wednesday night’s events, including Sarah Vidana, the owner of The Hair Studio, which Vidana said has a sizable Jewish clientele. She called the news of the fires “shocking” but said she “felt relief” upon learning her salon was not damaged.

“Do you know lucky we are that it didn’t hit this place?” Vidana said while inspecting the pile of rubble and the charred apartment building outside her salon on Thursday morning.

Two miles west down the road at the Chabad, dozens of men worshipped in honor of Shemini Atzeret, the final day of Sukkot. Allen Feinstein, 52, whose sister, Pamela, lives at Moorpark Street and Stern Avenue—less than two blocks from where the biggest fire occurred—said he was confident authorities would nab their suspect.

“They’ll find him,” Feinstein said. 

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