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Man arrested as alleged arsonist in 21 South Pasadena fires

April 24, 2013|By Hector Becerra
  • Javier Adolfo Viera.
Javier Adolfo Viera. (South Pasadena Police Department )

As Southern California trudges toward one of its driest years on record, a South Pasadena man faces charges for allegedly setting 21 brush and car fires in the city over the last six months.

Javier Adolfo Viera, 35, admitted to starting most of the fires, including several in which he tossed homemade incendiary devices from a moving vehicle into dry brush along the Arroyo Seco, South Pasadena Police Det. Bill Earley said.

With only about five inches of rain falling in downtown L.A., fire officials have worried about a fire season that has gotten off to an early start, with fires charring dessicated brush, including one that threatened about 400 homes in the hills above Monrovia last weekend before being contained.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which handles fire protection for about a third of the state, said it has dealt with 150 more blazes so far this year compared with 2012.

Tom Rolinski, a meteorologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Predictive Services Program, said experts are counting on the cloudy “May gray” and “June gloom” weather conditions to temper the danger posed by overly dry vegetation.

“If the marine layer is depressed and we have a pretty warm spring and early summer, then we’re going to be seeing a lot more fire activity earlier this season, and the fires will be bigger than they normally are,” he said.

While many large fires are caused by human activity by accident, some of the larger wildfires that have raged over Southern California over the years, including deadly ones, were set by arsonists.

No one was injured in the fires Viera allegedly started, which authorities said began in November.   

Earley, of the South Pasadena Police Department, said the fires escalated to include blazes set under parked vehicles and one in the doorway of a local business. Viera was under surveillance by South Pasadena and Pasadena authorities on Sunday just before a car fire in the 6100 block of Oak Hill Avenue in L.A.

“We watched [Viera] fill a bag with dried vegetation and take it in his car. [While on the move] he undertook several counter-surveillance measures, including driving the wrong way on one-way streets, and we ended up losing him a few blocks from where the last fire occurred,” Earley said.

While they searched for Viera, a witness saw him light the fire under the vehicle. South Pasadena officers had previously recovered fingerprints from a device used to set an earlier fire, Earley said.

Devices used to set brush fires in the Arroyo included heavy objects and flammable materials wrapped tightly in paper.

“He was still experimenting,” Earley said.

Viera was being held at Pasadena City Jail, pending the filing of as many as 26 felony arson charges. Earley said Viera, the father of three young children, told detectives he was struggling with anger issues related to childhood trauma and rekindled by job-related and financial troubles.

At first he denied setting the fires, Earley said.

“But later he did admit it and said he felt better afterward,” the detective added.


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