NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A suspected arsonist was charged with arson Monday after allegedly igniting several fires at two Queens malls Monday.
Firefighters responded to a call around 3:15 p.m. about a small blaze at Macy’s at the Queens Center shopping center, where some clothing had been set on fire, officials told CBS 2. Firefighters quickly put out the flames.
Derrick Sumair, 23, was charged Monday night, police said. The charges so far include allegations that he set fires inside a Staples store on Sunday and a Sears on Monday at the Rego Park Center.
A short time later at the nearby Rego Park Center, more small fires — also from clothing being lit — were reported at Sears, Old Navy, Bed Bath and Beyond and Burlington Coat Factory. They were also quickly extinguished.
“There were limited contents fires, no structural fires,” FDNY Deputy Chief Joseph Schiralli told CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco. “The sprinkler here in Sears activated. We put them out.”
A 23-year-old man was taken into custody at Burlington Coat Factory. Investigators believe he set the fires to divert attention from his shoplifting.
Police also questioned the suspect in connection with similar mall fires set Friday and throughout the weekend in the two malls. They included the Staples fire with which he was charged, and another fire at a T.J. Maxx at the Rego Park Center.
No injuries were reported in the fires.
Denise Triage told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond that she was shopping in Sears when she was told to evacuate.
“When we saw all the trucks and stuff, then we were a little concerned, but I never saw a fire itself,” she said. “The alarms went off, but we didn’t see a fire.”
When Mitchell Ross of Brooklyn approached Rego Park Center around 3:30 p.m., the evacuation was well under way.
“About nine to 10 fire trucks,” he described. “They had the service road and the middle road blocked off.”
Mall employees were left confused by the chaos.
“What I thought to myself was it was probably just a shoplifter,” Edwin Lorenzo told Carrasco. “And I thought there was too many cops for it just to be a shoplifting.
“To think that somebody would come into a mall just to cause harm, to me, that’s a little bit too much,” Lorenzo added.
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