Robert Wyneken, 75, who volunteers at a nearby church, called her the "sweetest lady on the street" who supported herself by recycling cans and didn't like to panhandle. He said there were efforts to get her housing and in contact with family, but she wouldn't have it.
"I just think she had something in her life where she wanted to be alone," he said. "She didn't want to be a burden to anybody."
Thursday's incident was at least the third in Los Angeles County since October where people were set on fire.
Last week, a 55-year-old man was seriously injured when he was set ablaze as he slept outside a doughnut shop in Norwalk. Two months earlier, Long Beach police said Jacob Timothy Lagarde, 27, allegedly threw a lit Molotov cocktail at a man who had been waiting for his father outside a store. Lagarde has since been charged with attempted murder and five other counts.
Los Angeles police are investigating whether Petillo might be tied to any other similar crimes, but at this point detectives don't believe he is, Cmdr. Andrew Smith said.