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5 dead, 1 arrested in Los Angeles abandoned building fire

LOS ANGELES — Firefighters on Tuesday found four more bodies as they searched an abandoned office building the day after it was damaged by a major fire near downtown Los Angeles, and a man suspected of intentionally setting the blaze was arrested on suspicion of murder, authorities said.

The discoveries raised the death toll to five people, all of them apparent homeless people who had been living in the building, authorities said. One man had already been declared dead at the scene while the blaze was burning Monday night.

Before the new deaths were discovered, a man who also had been living there was arrested on suspicion of murder for starting the fire, said Billy Hayes, commanding officer of the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide division.

The man, Johnny Sanchez, 21, had been in a dispute with the other people staying in the building, Hayes said.

"His intent was to light the fire with the hopes of killing these individuals, or at least one individual," Hayes said.

Hayes said police will seek additional charges now that the death toll has grown.

The bodies of two men and two women were found Tuesday afternoon as authorities searched the second floor of the burned-out building with a team of dogs.

Their bodies were being removed from the upper floor with a fire ladder truck.

It took nearly 150 firefighters more than two hours to extinguish the fire in the green, two-story building that once was home to an acupuncture clinic, It is surrounded by strip malls and an apartment building in the Westlake District of Los Angeles.

The area is on the edge of Koreatown, and the signs on the building and many surrounding businesses are in Korean.

The structure appeared to be singed and some of its windows were blown out. It did not appear seriously damaged from the outside, but it looked like the inside had been badly burned and most of the roof was gone.

There had been complaints of small alley fires next to the building recently, fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said. Authorities had contacted the owner, who has sought a demolition permit for the building, about keeping people out.

The people who were killed had broken through a metal door to get inside, authorities said.

Interviews and evidence gathered Monday night pointed police to Sanchez as the suspect, Hayes said. He would not elaborate.

Sanchez has a police record involving drugs and domestic violence, police said.

It wasn't immediately clear if he has hired an attorney.

During the blaze, firefighters had to take a defensive stance and fight the fire from a distance because it was too dangerous to get close to the abandoned building with a fire burning so strongly.

Fire officials at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon urged people to notify the city if they see unsecured abandoned buildings, and said firefighters would be making special checks in their districts to makes sure other buildings are not similarly dangerous.