Witness: Arsonist Made Sure Dealership's BMWs “Lit Up”

One man was arrested soon after the fire, but was later released by police who said he was not the suspected arsonist.

Police said Thursday they are still looking for a man witnesses saw dousing several BMWs at a Santa Monica dealership with gasoline before setting them on fire.

A suspect was arrested shortly after the fire Wednesday night, but investigators later determined he was not the arsonist and he was released.

Four certified used cars were destroyed and a fifth was partially damaged.

Eliza McMillan said she saw a man pour some type of fluid, possibly gasoline, on the cars and used a "bomb-type thing" to set them ablaze. Arson investigators said Thursday afternoon the liquid was some type of "ignitable liquid."

She described  the item as a bottle with a cloth that was on fire to light the cars ablaze at the dealership in the 1100 block of Santa Monica Boulevard. Surveillance images released Thursday show a man purchasing $4 in gas, and storing it in a red gas can, at a gas station just blocks away from the dealership at 10:21 p.m.

McMillan said the arsonist was wearing a very dark outfit and had a jacket with a hood. McMillan's daughter Haley described the fire as "explosive" and said that it "started shooting like fireworks."

Initial calls reporting the fire were received at 10:40 p.m.

"He doused all of the front vehicles," McMillan said. "He looked back to make sure it was lit up, then he started running down the street."

That’s when McMillan called 911 to report the man, who also was carrying what appeared to be a red gas can.

Surveillance video from the dealership also shows a man with a red gas can.

Santa Monica Fire Chief Mike McElvaney said that upon arrival, three of the cars were well-involved and that firefighters' primary goal was to prevent the fire from spreading to other vehicles on the lot.

NBC4's Jonathan Lloyd contributed to this report.

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