A likely unprecedented reward of $170,000 was slated to be offered in the investigation into a massive fire that destroyed an apartment complex under construction in downtown Los Angeles, officials announced Wednesday.
The reward — part of which was expected to be approved by the City Council on Friday — was announced amid an ongoing arson investigation into the Dec. 8 blaze that gutted a 526-unit building that was part of the Da Vinci Apartments complex.
Authorities have said the fire — at West Temple Street and North Fremont Avenue, a few hundred feet from the four-level interchange of the 110 and 101 freeways — was deliberately set.
On Wednesday, a federal official said an accelerant was used.
Investigators were still running down leads and hoping to speak to two witnesses who were shown in video near the fire, which caused between $25 and $30 million in damage to the complex. Two other high-rises were also damaged, as was the 110 Freeway.
The reward was intended to encourage those with information to come forward to “close the loop” of the continuing work of the arson investigation, according to Special Agent in Charge Carlos Canino of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years. I don’t recall a reward this high,” Canino said. “The reason it’s unprecedented is because of the magnitude of this fire … a city-block long, a debris field 7 feet high.”
The ATF, which is working with the Los Angeles Fire Department on the case, contributed $20,000 toward the reward. The City Council was expected to approve $75,000, and Da Vinci property owner Geoffrey Palmer matched the city’s offer of $75,000.
“$170,000 is a lot of money,” Canino said. “You’d like to think people come forward for altruistic reasons, but $170,000 is $170,000.”
A debris-strewn part of the wreckage that was of 10,000 square feet and 7 feet high was cleared out by the shovel-full over the course of a week after the fire because heavy machinery could not be used at the site, Canino said. Investigators found the area where the blaze began, he said.
The investigation was going practically 24 hours per day, Canino said, but was “not at a dead-end whatsoever.”
Investigators know an accelerant was used, Canino said, but he would not provide additional details.
The details of the reward were announced at a morning news conference at City Hall. The money was intended for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for the fire.
The arson left city firefighting resources spread “dangerously thin” and put 250 firefighters in danger in extremely hot conditions, fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said.
"If you commit an act of arson in the city of Los Angeles, we will find you, we will arrest you, we will prosecute you, and you will go to jail," Terrazas said.
Councilman Jose Huizar, who proposed the city’s reward, lauded the firefighters.
“It is a miracle that in a major fire like this, no one was killed nor hurt,” Huizar said.
Anyone with information about the fire was urged to contact the Fire Department's Arson Section at 213-893-9850.