Man arrested on suspicion of murder in fatal Westlake District fire

- A homeless man was booked on suspicion of murder Tuesday after he allegedly set a fire that killed five people in a vacant office building in the Westlake District.

The bodies of four more homeless victims -- two men and two women -- were found in the ruins of the two-story structure that was gutted by a major emergency fire in the Westlake District.

A male victim was pronounced dead at the scene not long after the fire broke out about 7 p.m. Monday in a 14,351-square-foot building at 2411 W. Eighth St. near MacArthur Park, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The suspect, identified as 21-year-old Johnny Sanchez, allegedly set the fire intentionally because he had a dispute with other transients living along with him in the building, police and fire officials said at a news conference this afternoon.

"It was a dispute between Sanchez and other individuals that were residing in the building that was the cause of him ultimately lighting the fire,'' Los Angeles Police Department Lt. William Hayes said.

"This was specific, that his intent was to light the fire with the hopes of killing these individuals -- at least the one individual," Hayes continued.

Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said the victims found Tuesday were located together under debris on the building's second floor.

"It took some digging, but our firefighters we were able to extricate the bodies,'' he said. Crews used a ladder truck to lift the bodies from the unstable building.

Sanchez, who was taken into custody about 8 p.m. Monday and booked about 4:40 a.m. today, was being held in lieu of $1 million bail, according to sheriff's online inmate records.

He was initially described as a person-of-interest who was detained and taken to a hospital for a medical evaluation.

Cadaver dogs and their handlers discovered the additional victims inside the burned-out building, according to fire department spokesman Peter Sanders, who said all five victims appear to be transients.

Firefighters used ladders to rescue three people from second-story windows during the blaze, Sanders said.

"One of those victims was transported to a local hospital and the other two were treated and released on scene,'' he said.

Firefighters were forced into a defensive posture about 20 minutes into their battle with the blaze, fighting the flames from outside the structure.

A total of 147 firefighters fought the fire for two hours and 22 minutes, bringing it under control at 9:25 p.m. Monday.

No firefighters were injured.

The building, which has long stood vacant, has been the site of past fires, according to a fire department official.

"It's sad," Eric Granadeno said, who lives out of his truck just feet away from the building.

At one time, he thought about moving in with them.

"Empty buildings like that I get scared to go inside," Granadero said. "I don’t want to be in one of these places and sleeping and once the smoke comes, it's over."

Granadero said he has a family including a daughter, but has been homeless for about eight years.

His problems started after his mother died and says he feels he has no place else to go.

"When was the last time you saw your daughter?" FOX11's Christine O'Donnell asked.

"I don't want to talk about that too much. It makes me feel very sad, ya know?" 

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