When the pandemic settled on Los Angeles, so did a wave of arson. Incidents have decreased from the unprecedented heights reached in 2020, but more fires are being intentionally set than before COVID.
From Jan. 1–Sept. 30 this year, there were 415 arson crimes in the city, according to publicly available Los Angeles Police Department data. Although that is above levels in recent years, the 2023 count is just below the 419 arson reports in the entirety of 2019. It also already exceeds the full-year count in any year from 2010–2018.
The peak was the 653 arson reports in 2020.
The situation remains serious. Before the pandemic, there were generally 25 to 40 arson reports each month. Levels began rising in May 2020, and the high was the 78 incidents that October. There have been peaks and valleys since then, including another recent spike.
This August, the LAPD tabulated 63 arson reports. That is the highest count since July 2021, and is up 50% from August 2019.
More than 130 arrests have been made so far this year for a variety of arson crimes, according to LAPD data.
Occasional fire clusters have sparked high-level attention. Fairfax experienced a number of blazes in May and June, and a Los Angeles Fire Department investigation helped lead to an arrest. Around the same time, a spree of nearly two dozen automobile fires in the Sunland/Tujunga area ended with a man arrested.
In September, the LAFD’s Arson/Counter-Terrorism Section arrested a suspect connected to 14 suspicious fires in Reseda.
Danger to tents and buildings
The LAFD was unable to supply Crosstown with citywide arson totals. However, department Public Information Officer Capt. Erik Scott said in a statement that the Arson Section has seen a rise in rubbish fires, some of which are intentionally set.
“The increase is possibly due to persons experiencing homelessness having fire-related incidents, either intentional or accidental fires, in their living area,” the statement said.
There have long been concerns about fires at tent encampments in Downtown, and numerous walls show the dark scorch marks where blazes broke out. Some incidents are believed to be the result of arson.
Estela Lopez, executive director of the L.A. Downtown Industrial Business Improvement District, said the spate of fires poses a challenge for area business and property owners.
“Businesses throughout Downtown, but especially Skid Row and adjacent, are having fire insurance canceled or not renewed,” Lopez said. “Insurers blame risk posed by encampments that are up against the walls of buildings. Insurers aren’t wrong. When tents go up in flames, the building is the casualty.”
About one in four arson fires reported from Jan. 1–Sept. 30 of this year took place in a residence, either a single-family home or an apartment building, according to police data. A similar number were on the street.
There were 24 arson reports involving a vehicle, and four where the location was identified as a police facility.
Even City Hall was the site of an arson fire. A man was arrested in July.
LAPD data only reflects crimes that are reported to the department, not how many crimes actually occurred. In making our calculations, we rely on the data the LAPD makes publicly available. LAPD may update past crime reports with new information, or recategorize past reports. Those revised reports do not always automatically become part of the public database.
Have questions about our data or want to know more? Write to us at email@example.com.