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Serial Hollywood Arsonist Convicted Of 47 Separate Charges

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LAFD firefighters douse flames at a carport fire on New Years Eve, 2011 (Photo by LAFD via Flickr)
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New Years Eve is always a busy time for Los Angeles emergency responders. But back in closing days of 2011, the LAFD and LAPD were also fighting a serial arsonist. Working mostly at night, a single arsonist lit more than 50 fires in and around the Hollywood and South Valley areas between December 30, 2011 and January 2, 2012. Torching parked cars from the undercarriage, the arsonist ensured any fire would quickly spread to the vehicle's surroundings. Many of these vehicles were located in carports, where the flames jumped to the accompanying apartment building. Though nobody was seriously injured, a total of 55 fires seriously damaged homes, garages and vehicles across Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Burbank.

That arsonist, a German national named Harry Burkhart, was found guilty on Thursday of 47 charges of arson and 2 counts of possession of an incendiary device, according to the Los Angeles Times. Burkhart could face up to 89 years in prison.

Deputy District Attorney Sean Carney, responsible for prosecuting Burkhart, explained to jurors that Burkhart's intent was to inspire fear across Los Angeles. Burkhart allegedly wanted "to harm and terrorize as many residents," all in a "quest for revenge" after his mother was arrested in Los Angeles for a crime she committed in Germany.

Back in 2007, German authorities arrested Harry's mother, Dorothee Burkhart, for allegedly failing to return security deposits to 19 tenants who lived in an apartment building she managed. Dorothee Burkhart, however, escaped while in German custody at a Frankfurt hospital. Taking advantage of an unguarded restroom window, Dorothee Burkhart fled through the hospital's grounds, her intentions to find her then 19-year old son Harry and fly to Canada.

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Upon arrival in Canada, the Burkharts attempted to declare asylum, citing a group of neo-Nazis in Germany who supposedly wanted them dead. The two settled in Vancouver while the Canadian government processed their request for political asylum. Their claim was rejected, and the two eventually found their way to Los Angeles by late 2010.

As the L.A. Times reports, the Burkharts integrated into a Russian speaking immigrant community in West Hollywood. They lived in a pair of studio apartments above a hair salon on Sunset Boulevard.

By October of 2011, however, American federal agents were closing in on Dorothee, showing photos of her around the neighborhood where the Burkharts lived. She was arrested in late 2011. When Harry Burkhart learned his mother was to be deported from the U.S. at a court hearing in December, he began shouting "Fuck the United States" loudly and repeatedly until he was escorted out of the courtroom.

The fires started a few days later on December 30, covering a swath of Los Angeles in Hollywood and West Hollywood, through the Cahuenga Pass, and between Sherman Oaks and Burbank. Burkhart was arrested at around 3 a.m. on January 2, after a reserve Sheriffs Deputy spotted his minivan with British Columbia (Canada) plates.

Burkhart pled not guilty by reason of insanity. A court panel will determine the state of Burkhart's mental health next week.