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The wildfire has charred over 1,300 acres and sent thousands of residents fleeing from their homes as crews battle flames in steep terrain.
| Monday, May 17, 2021
arson suspect palisades fire
A firefighting helicopter drops water onto a brush fire scorching at least 100 acres in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles on Saturday, May 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

By Martin Macias Jr.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Los Angeles police have arrested a man suspected of igniting a wildfire that has so far burned over 1,300 acres and spurred mandatory evacuations as fire crews battled the blaze in steep, brush-filled terrain in a canyon community west of the city.

The wildfire broke out Friday in the Santa Monica Mountains west of Los Angeles and exploded the following day, charring at least 1,325 acres so far and sending plumes of smoke and ash into the sky as thousands of residents fled their homes.

The blaze is actively burning in the Topanga Canyon area, where fire crews are battling the flames on steep hillsides of a remote community that shares a border with coastal Malibu.

The fire — dubbed the Palisades Fire by officials — threatens at least 500 homes in the area and is currently zero percent contained.

LA Fire Department chief Ralph M. Terrazas said in a press conference Monday the man currently in police custody is a possible arson suspect. Terrazas didn’t reveal any other information about the man such as his name, age or ties to the fire or the area.

“We feel we have the right person,” Terrazas said, adding the unnamed man is receiving medical attention due to smoke inhalation.

Another unidentified person detained by police was later released after investigators determined there was no connection to the fire, Terrazas said.

So far, no residents have been reported injured and no structures have been harmed by the blaze. One firefighter battling the blaze sustained a minor injury but is expected to fully recover.

Due to the dry, inaccessible terrain, emergency crews have relied on helicopters to drop water and fire retardant on the burn zone.

Terrazas said fire agencies hope to have planes drop water over the fire soon but must wait for the low cloud cover in the region to lift.

“The air tankers can’t get airborne unless cloud cover lifts to 4,000 feet and right now it’s at 2,500 feet,” Terrazas said. “We’re monitoring that cloud cover continually.”

The burn area stood at just 15 acres on Saturday morning, but erupted into a 750-acre blaze by that evening.

The region has seen very little rainfall in recent months and dense, dry brush areas have only become more parched.

Officials said some sections of the Palisades Fire area haven’t burned in over 50 years. That buildup of fuel creates higher risk for wildfires.

“The drought and the years since other fires have changed the equation,” Terrazas said, adding that crews will remain in the area for days to come.

The blaze, which is burning near Topanga State Park, remains under investigation.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters more than 540 firefighters from multiple emergency service agencies in the region are battling the blaze.

“We’re putting everything on this that we can,” Garcetti said.

Recreational hikers and residents hoping to observe the fire are being asked to stay away from the area and adhere to orders from emergency officials.

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