BOUND BROOK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — New Jersey police have made an arrest related to a devastating fire in Bound Brook.
The Somerville County Prosecutor’s Office said 28-year-old Juan Padilla has been arrested and will be charged with arson in connection to a 7-alarm fire that destroyed two apartment complexes under construction, a rooming house and an electronics store.
Prosecutors plan to pursue second-degree aggravated arson and third-degree hindering an investigation apprehension/false information charges.
Witnesses said the blaze spread very quickly, consuming two blocks of West Main Street for hours on Sunday night. The fire was yet another blow to a town that has been trying for years to rebuild.
Investigators said they immediately suspected foul play since nobody was working at the construction site where the fire started. They said a surveillance camera captured Padilla walking in and out of the building known as the Meridia II. Soon after, it began to burn. Strong, gusty winds then carried embers to other buildings.
“In my eyes, there really is no justice for something of this magnitude,” Bound Brook Police Chief Vito A. Bet told CBS2’s Christina Fan on Tuesday.
Cellphone video shows an intense fireball. Authorities said the wind sent embers as far away as across the river. The flames were so strong it registered on weather radar.
The police chief said the suspect is known to the department and when detectives first questioned him, he lied and denied he was at the scene.
Borough officials said they are still estimating how much the damage will cost to repair. For a town that’s already experienced so much loss before to natural disasters, this man-made one is hard to comprehend.
“We’re going to rebuild, but Bound Brook has suffered enough damage over the years between floods and fires. We were hoping the last one would have been the last one, but, unfortunately, we have to deal with this,” Chief Bet said.
There were no major injuries to first responders fighting the fire, and all residents escaped unharmed, officials said.
Larry Myrick was among the handful of residents forced to evacuate, and it will be days before he can return for fears that buildings that surround his home could collapse. Seeing what’s left was difficult.
“It hurts my heart,” said Myrick. “It puts tears in my eyes.”
“It’s going to take time for insurance, for builder, too much problem, dig it out, everything,” business owner Anil Jain added.
Prosecutors said Padilla is scheduled to have a detention hearing on Friday and could be facing more possible charges.
A total of 36 fire companies from Somerset, Middlesex, Union, Hunterdon, and Mercer Counties, as well as the New Jersey State Forestry Service responded to the scene.