Eagle Rock man charged with torching homeless encampment, sparking brush fire in 2019

James Queally
·4 min read
Firefighters battle a brush fire in Eagle Rock on Aug. 25, 2019. (Credit: KTLA)
Firefighters battle a blaze on the Glendale-Eagle Rock border in August 2019. (KTLA)

An Eagle Rock man has been charged with setting fire to a homeless encampment in 2019, a blaze that eventually grew into a brush fire that left three people injured and threatened homes in Los Angeles and Glendale, prosecutors said.

Daniel Nogueira, 27, was charged last week with arson, two counts of assault with a deadly weapon and using an explosive device, prosecutors said. The charges came more than 18 months after the fire erupted near the 2 Freeway along the Glendale-Eagle Rock border.

If convicted as charged, Nogueira faces up to 10 years and four months in prison, according to Ricardo Santiago, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

The fire was set on Aug. 25, 2019, in the 2900 block of Colorado Boulevard, the site of a large homeless encampment under the freeway, investigators said. The blaze quickly spread north toward the 134 Freeway, burning through nearly 45 acres of vegetation and leading to the evacuation of about 100 homes in Glendale and L.A.

Two residents of the encampment sustained minor injuries, and one Los Angeles firefighter was hurt battling the blaze, authorities said.

Los Angeles police arrested Nogueira and Brian Antonio Araujo-Cabrera on suspicion of attempted murder in September 2019, accusing the men of throwing a "firework" at the encampment. The device was described as a "mortar" in a criminal complaint made public this week.

But prosecutors sent the case back to police for further investigation at the time, and it had hung in limbo ever since. A law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Times that although the LAPD's supplemental investigation wrapped up last May, L.A. County's courts were not hosting jury trials at that time.

Concerned about "speedy trial issues," prosecutors held off on filing charges, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the case candidly.

Los Angeles Fire Department investigators said the men specifically targeted the encampment but did not offer a motive at the time of the blaze. The official told The Times that Nogueira carried out the attack because he "did not like the homeless encampments."

Police also presented a case against Araujo-Cabrera as an accessory to the fire after the fact, but prosecutors declined to file charges due to insufficient evidence, according to Santiago.

Nogueira's father, Michael, has been president of Eagle Rock's Chamber of Commerce since 2014, and past attempts to contact him have been unsuccessful. The shadow of his son's alleged involvement in the fire caused a controversy during Kevin de León's City Council campaign last year, when the former state senator scheduled a fundraiser at the Nogueiras' Eagle Rock residence. Advocates for homeless people were furious over the decision, as Daniel Nogueira still lives at his parents' home, and De León eventually rescheduled.

Nogueira's defense attorney, Alan Jackson, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nogueira was released after posting bond in lieu of $1-million bail in 2019, and has remained out of custody ever since, jail records show. An arraignment is scheduled for April 14.

The fire was the first in a series of arson attacks against, and within, L.A. County's sprawling homeless community in 2019.

In a six-week span from late August to early October of that year, a number of homeless men and women saw their tents set ablaze or had explosives thrown at their resting places in Eagle Rock, Glendale, Echo Park and skid row. Three homeless people were killed in fires — two of which police said were set by other unhoused people — but in other cases an encampment was burned out near Chatsworth and a firecracker was thrown at the tent of a man sleeping under an overpass in Echo Park.

Mel Tillekeratne, the founder of Shower of Hope, a network of trailers that provides washing stations for the unhoused throughout L.A. County, said the announcement of charges came as a relief given so much time had passed since the fire.

“It was something we were worried that would fall through the cracks of the so-called justice system in L.A.," he said. "So, to see a person who committed a serious offense against the unhoused, to see them brought to justice … these are things we really need."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.