New podcast ‘Firebug’ looks at real-life serial arsonist and fire investigator in California

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Someone was setting fires across California during the 1980s and early 1990s, evading law enforcement, and leaving a trail of destroyed buildings and lives in their wake. 

Meanwhile in 1991, a manuscript called “Points of Origin” was making the rounds in Hollywood. The protagonist was a fire investigator in pursuit of an arsonist, and there were eerie similarities between the manuscript and the real-life fires in Southern California.

Those similarities set off alarm bells with local law enforcement. The writer of that manuscript was John Orr, an arson investigator stationed in Glendale who was later arrested and charged with multiple counts of arson. 

When Orr was serving at Glendale station, “he developed a penchant for teaching arson investigation tactics and skills to his fellow arson investigators around the state,” explains Kary Antholis, who hosts the “Firebug” podcast that centers on the arsonist and arson investigator. 

He adds, “He kind of became well known as a teacher of these seminars.” 

Orr is suspected of starting thousands of fires, according to Antholis. “He’s been convicted of dozens, but the thing is that there’s been only one fire that he’s been convicted of that’s keeping him in prison for the rest of his life. And that’s the fire at Ole’s Home Center, a hardware store in South Pasadena, California, that killed four people including a grandmother and her 2-year-old grandson.” That fire is one of many featured in Orr’s manuscript. 

While Orr is behind bars, Antholis has been in touch with him over the past two years. Their conversations will be aired later in the season of the “Firebug” podcast.