Firefighters on Tuesday made significant progress against a brush fire burning in the Santa Monica Mountains that forced hundreds of residents to flee their homes over the weekend as prosecutors announced charges against the man suspected of setting the blaze.
Containment of the Palisades Fire grew over the course of the day from from 32 to 47%, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. Acreage remained the same time Monday evening, at 1,158, after being revised downward from the previous day.
Investigators determined the cause of the fire to be arson after spending hours analyzing burn patterns, documenting the burn area and conducting interviews with witnesses, firefighters and police officers.
The suspect has been identified as 48-year-old Ramon Santos Rodriguez, a transient.
The L.A. County District Attorney’s Office has filed two charges against Rodriguez in the case, according to the complaint.
Rodriguez pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Tuesday afternoon, according to a courthouse official.
Arson investigators were initially called out to look into the blaze just after midnight Saturday, about two hours after crews encountered multiple, slow-moving fires in remote and steep terrain in Pacific Palisades, according to a Fire Department news release. The first flames ignited off Michael Lane and Palisades Court.
The following morning, a man was seen by an LAFD helicopter pilots moving around in brush along a hillside near the burn area. An air patrol was dispatched to monitor him from the air, while crews were deployed on the ground.
“During an aerial observation, the Tactical Flight Officer witnessed the individual ignite multiple additional fires,” the release stated.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was called in to assist LAFD arson investigators, and deputies were lowered into brush to search for the man. But the effort was halted as the blaze spread rapidly.
Then, just after 11 a.m. Sunday, a private security guard observed the individual emerging from the brush in the 1200 block of Palisades Drive and called the Los Angeles fire and police departments.
LAPD officers arrived at the scene and detained the man, who was then taken to a local hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation before being arrested on Monday afternoon.
“We do feel we have the right person,” LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said Monday.
Rodriguez is being held on $75,000 bail, booking records show.
Meanwhile, more than 500 firefighting personnel are still battling the flames and working to increase containment Tuesday morning. Resources include 50 engines, three helicopters, four dozers and three water tenders.
It’s unclear when the fire will be fully contained.
All evacuation orders in the Topanga Canyon area were lifted Monday night, allowing those displaced to return home.
Additionally, the stretch of Topanga Canyon Boulevard from the Pacific Coast Highway to Mulholland Drive reopened around 1 p.m. Tuesday.
But all backcountry trails and areas of Topanga State Park were closed to the public starting Tuesday until further notice, to allow officials to survey the damage and make any necessary repairs. Violators could be cited or arrested, according to Santa Monica Mountains parks officials.