On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Fire Department identified a homeless man arrested on suspicion of starting the Palisades Fire that has burned more than 1,150 acres in Southern California.
Authorities said Ramon Santos Rodriguez, a 48-year-old transient, was taken into custody on Sunday afternoon and charged with felony arson. According to a spokesperson with the fire department, the suspect has multiple name variations in law enforcement databases, including Ramon Rodriguez Flores. He is reportedly being held on $75,000 bail. Investigators said he does not live in an encampment in the fire zone.
Firefighters responded to reports of a brush fire late Friday night about 18 miles west of L.A. between Pacific Palisades and Topanga Canyon. Officials said they encountered multiple, separate blazes along what the department described as “steep and remote terrain with thick understory dry and dead vegetation.” The fires spread quickly over the weekend, resulting in mandatory evacuation orders for about 1,000 people. About 500 homes were threatened. By Monday evening, all evacuation orders had been lifted. No homes were damaged as of Tuesday when the blaze was 32% contained.
NOTE; The arrestee has multiple name variations in law enforcement databases. The name given to #LAFD Arson Investigators is Rodriguez Flores, Ramon.
— 🅔🅡🅘🅚 🅢🅒🅞🅣🅣 (@PIOErikScott) May 18, 2021
L.A. Councilman Mike Bonin, a progressive Democrat who represents Pacific Palisades, expressed concern that newly released information about the man arrested would be used to unfairly scapegoat and demonize homeless people.
“Arson is a crime committed by an individual, and not by a person’s housing status,” he said in a statement released on Tuesday afternoon. “Suggesting the suspect’s housing status is a contributing factor to the crime is irresponsible, and implies other people experiencing homelessness are inherently more dangerous or more likely to commit arson that housed people.”
The @LAFD has released info about the man arrested for arson in the #PalisadesFire: https://t.co/IQtNINVDpf This is a heinous felony, and he should be prosecuted and held accountable. Arson is a crime committed by a person, and not by their housing status. My statement below: pic.twitter.com/bXmZtHv3gx
— Mike Bonin (@mikebonin) May 18, 2021
“I cannot recall a public official or the media ever highlighting that a fire was set by, or a crime was committed by, a housed individual, although most are,” Bonin continued. “This was not an encampment fire, it was arson. The arson suspect’s housing status is no more relevant than his race, his religion, or his sexual orientation. Exploiting this incident to stoke anti-homeless sentiment is irresponsible and harmful.”
On Saturday, LAFD helicopter pilots observed an adult male moving along a hillside near the fire, then the Los Angeles Police Department air patrol was dispatched to monitor the man.
“During an aerial observation, the Tactical Flight Officer witnessed the individual ignite multiple additional fires,” a press release from the fire department said. “Arson investigators from LAFD requested the assistance of specialized deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Emergency Services Detail to locate and apprehend the alleged suspect with the rugged terrain. Deputies were lowered into the brush to begin their search. Because the fires were growing rapidly, deputies were forced to retreat.”
Fire officials said a private security officer notified LAPD and LAFD after the man emerged from the brush on Sunday morning. Police officers arrived, detained the suspect, then transported him to a hospital, where he was treated for smoke inhalation. On Tuesday morning, arson investigators presented their case to the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office.
KFI News reported data from the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness that indicated 2,742 new homeless people had arrived in the area between 2016-2021, with an increase of 967 new residential vehicles during the same time period. LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said there are “multiple” homeless encampments in the vicinity, but did not specify a number.