After a 27-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of arson in connection with a blazing inferno on the Hermosa Beach Strand that damaged five homes in all, police released the original suspect and arrested a different man Friday.
Michael Christopher Kotva, 27, who was initially arrested on suspicion of arson, was released with no charges, Hermosa Beach police said. Kotva's mother told NBCLA Thursday after his arrest that he was just in the wrong place and the wrong time, and happened to be walking by when the fire broke out at 2 a.m.
After further investigation, Keith Yessner, 50, of La Quinta, California, was then taken into custody after police reviewed surveillance footage from the home.
Yessner has apparently had other run-ins with Hermosa Beach police, and officers said they recognized him on the video.
Neighbors awoke at 2 a.m. Thursday to the 150-foot tall flames swallowing a home under construction in the 800 block of The Strand, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said.
"It was crazy," Adam Wagenbrenner said. "It was fully engulfed in flames. It was pretty scary. I grabbed my son, grabbed the dog and got out of the house."
About 75 firefighters responded to get a handle on the blaze that quickly began to burn four homes nearby. Homes in the beach community are typically built very closely together, making it easier for the flames to spread.
Video from witnesses showed neighbors screaming for people to evacuate and remove children from the home directly next to the growing blaze.
"The flames — it was like daylight from the inside of the next house," Tom Montell said, who was awoken by the fire.
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Six people were forced to flee and find shelter with neighbors after the fire, Hermosa Beach police said.
A firefighter was hurt while battling the fire, and was treated at the hospital for a minor injury, Los Angeles County Fire Department Public Information Officer Brian Stevens said.
Yessner, the second suspect, was found in the 1600 block of Beach Drive after officers reviewed security footage from the scene. He was arrested without incident.
The fire is still under investigation and Hermosa Beach Police Department is asking anyone with additional information to contact Los Angeles County Fire Department Arson Investigator Brown at (323) 855-0070 or firstname.lastname@example.org