A high-end regional mall that is one of the main retail centers in a broad swath of Northern California was set ablaze Thursday after police arrested a man who had barricaded himself inside, dealing an economic blow to a region struggling to emerge from the recession.
City officials said part of the roof on the mall's south end collapsed. After the clouds of smoke cleared, overhead television images showed the charred remains of retail stores, many of which were gutted.
Scroll down to watch video from KOVR-TV in Sacramento.
Roseville Fire Department spokesman Dennis Mathisen said the fire burned a wing of the mall that appeared to extend several hundreds yards between two anchor tenants, Macy's and J.C. Penney. He said water and smoke damage was extensive beyond that wing.
The 1.3 million-square-foot Galleria was evacuated by the time the fire erupted and spread to the roof, and no injuries were reported.
The Galleria, which is about 17 miles east of the state capital, generates approximately $3.2 million for the city in annual sales tax revenue and could be closed or limited in operations for months.
"This is a real blow. This is sad," Roseville Mayor Gina Garbolino told reporters. She said city officials would do whatever they could to get the mall rebuilt "as soon as humanly possible."
The mall was evacuated earlier in the day after a man barricaded himself inside a shop and started what appeared at first to be a small fire.
Police and sheriff's deputies, including a county SWAT team, detained the man inside the mall. Roseville police later identified him as 23-year-old Alexander Corney Pigee. They were unable to immediately say if he had a gun.
CBS News Station KOVR-TV reports that mall employees say Pigee made incoherent remarks and claimed to have a gun, though nobody ever saw it.
"I didn't believe it was my son up until they showed the picture and I realized that it was," the suspect's mother told KOVR. "That's nothing we would even fathom my son would even do. I'm still puzzled right now."
Authorities had thought the mall's sprinkler system doused the blaze. Before the larger blaze erupted, police had detained Pigee and were checking a backpack they found to see if it contained explosives.
Police later said the fire began spreading as members of the bomb squad were examining the backpack, forcing them to flee the building.
"We weren't able to get in there because there was a potential bomb there," Sacramento Metro spokesman Christian Pebbles said.
Police descended on the mall shortly after 10:30 a.m. when the suspect entered a video game store.
"He was saying stuff about his family. The staff from GameStop was saying he was more or less incoherent," Roseville Police Lt. Mike Doane said.
Pigee's mother, Mary Carter, said on another local television station that she had told her son to move out of the family house several months ago because he was old enough to live on his own. Since then, he had been rotating among family members.
"He wasn't a bad kid. I don't know what happened," Carter told KCRA.
The man was taken from the police department to a local hospital. He was released in the evening and booked into Placer County Jail on suspicion of arson.
He started a fire, then barricaded himself in a back room, but there were no reports of hostages or injuries, said Megan MacPherson, spokeswoman for the city of Roseville. The mall was evacuated immediately.
She said the suspect was believed to have acted alone. Police did not know a motive, she said.
Firefighting units were being called in from surrounding communities to help douse a blaze that could be seen for miles around the capital region.
"I have no idea how this fire erupted again," Roseville Police Lt. Mike Doane said.
The 240-store mall, operated by Westfield Corp., was built in 2000 and includes a Nordstrom and Macy's. It underwent a $270 million expansion that was completed in 2008, adding Louis Vuitton, Tiffany and Burberry and other high-end stores.
Westfield Group spokeswoman Katy Dickey said there are no estimates on the cost of the damage because the fire was still burning. Dickey said management personnel was on site.
"It's an active situation," she said. "The evacuation occurred very smoothly, and the suspect is in custody."