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Top Arson Investigator Charged In Fires

December 19, 1991

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ An arson expert who wrote a novel about a firefighter-turned-firebug was charged in a series of commercial fires and is under suspicion in a fire that destroyed or damaged 64 homes.

Until his Dec. 4 arrest, Capt. John L. Orr was chief arson investigator for the Glendale Fire Department. He is now on leave with pay, pending the outcome of the case.

Authorities announced at a news conference Wednesday that the 17-year fire department veteran was indicted by a federal grand jury on Tuesday on five counts of arson and three counts of attempted arson.

Orr also is under investigation in the devastating 1990 Glendale wildfire, which destroyed or damaged 64 homes and caused $19 million in losses, said lendale Fire Chief Richard Hinz. Orr was the fire’s chief investigator.

Federal agents searched Orr’s home and car and seized two incendiary devices, videotapes of arson fires and a pistol that could be used to launch a device that ignites fires, authorities said.

Orr denies the charges. His lawyer, Douglas McCann, said the evidence seized was used by Orr in his work as an arson investigator and instructor in arson detection.

″They can blame the guy for anything,″ McCann said. ″The question is, what evidence do they have?″

The fires, set in stores in central and Southern California, bear a striking resemblance to fires described in Orr’s unpublished manuscript, ″Points of Origin,″ said federal agent Michael Matassa.

Nobody was injured in any of the fires, U.S. Attorney Lourdes G. Baird said.

The charges have sent shock waves through his department. He had gained a reputation as one of the nation’s top fire investigators.

″I was shocked, saddened, dismayed, angered - all of those things,″ Hinz said.

″Given the fact that Orr did serve as the arson investigator in each of the fires, we will explore the possibility of concealed or adulterated evidence,″ Hinz said.

Orr, 42, was held Wednesday on $50,000 bail.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of 80 years in prison and $2 million in fines. Arraignment was scheduled for Monday.

Orr, who has been widely quoted by news organizations over the years, speculated in interviews after the Glendale blaze that the arsonist may have set several less-severe fires in the area. Time-delay devices were found at some of the scenes.

The indictment includes fires or attempted fires between 1989 and 1991 in the central California city of Atascadero, as well as in Lawndale, Redondo Beach, North Hollywood and Highland Park in the Los Angeles area.

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