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Police Say Fires Were Set In Highland, Indiana Meijer Store As Distraction By Shoplifters; Similar Incident Happened At Lansing Walmart

HIGHLAND, Ind. (CBS) -- Burned cotton balls were left behind after police said a shoplifter set them on fire inside a Meijer store in Northwest Indiana this week.

It was one of several fires started at once in the store.

The Meijer in Highland, Indiana was back open Tuesday after authorities said several fires were set on purpose and used as a diversion to steal from the store.

CBS 2's Charlie De Mar spoke Tuesday night with a group of friends who rushed in to stomp one of the fires out.

Shoppers roaming the aisles of the Meijer in Highland, Indiana were forced to evacuate Monday night - for those not one, but three fires that appeared to have been intentionally set throughout the grocery store.

Kaelyn Flavin and her two friends, Charlotte Bates and Michael Medina, were in the store for makeup when they heard someone yell, "Fire!"

"There were cotton pads on fire, and everyone's trying to blow on it to get it out. and we all grabbed them, threw them on the ground, and started stomping on it until it went out," Flavin said.

"It was in the cotton ball aisle, so it would have been pretty easy to catch on fire and spread," added Bates.

As store employees and customers rushed to the toy aisle with the Nerf toys and other parts of the store to put out the fires, Highland police said the flames were used as a deliberate distraction for a few people to steal and walk out of the store with merchandise.

On Friday, there was almost an identical incident at the Walmart in south suburban Lansing, about six miles from Highland.

Two fires were set inside the store, causing major damage. Arson is believed to be the cause.

Nobody was injured in either fire.

"It's crazy, like, the extremes people go to, to steal stuff," said Medina.

Police in Highland are working to connect the dots, and said late Tuesday, they were working with police in Lansing and comparing evidence to determine if the same people are responsible.

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