Suspected arsonist arrested for setting fatal SoHo fire in domestic dispute, NYPD says

SoHo fire, Jan. 10, 2013.
Justine Marino/CBS New York
Fire in New York City's SoHo neighborhood, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013.
Justine Marino/CBS New York

(CBS/AP) NEW YORK - A man is in custody on suspicion of intentionally starting a fatal five-alarm fire Thursday in a New York City apartment building as part of a domestic dispute with his child's mother, authorities said.

According to CBS New York, police say 45-year-old Wei Chu Wu has been charged with arson, second degree murder, felony assault of a police officer and resisting arrest.

Witnesses saw the suspect start the fire in a second floor hallway at about 6:40 p.m. after a domestic dispute with the woman, according to police spokesman Paul Browne. He said the woman and the child are accounted for.

One person was killed in the fire. Browne said the unidentified victim was apparently not part of the dispute and was found on the third floor fire escape burned beyond recognition.

An off-duty firefighter from Los Angeles, who was dining in the area, spotted the flames and ran over to the building where he was confronted by Wu who wouldn't let him into the building, Browne said.

The suspect also fought with a police officer and New York City firefighters who were trying to enter the building. Wu was treated at a hospital for bruises and a police officer was treated for a broken hand, Browne said.

CBS New York reports that initial responders said they were immediately suspicious that the fire had been started intentionally.

"Simply because of the heavy volume of fire on arrival. We had an extraordinary amount of fire. It quickly spread throughout the entire building," FDNY Chief of Operations James Esposito said.

About 200 firefighters responded to the blaze, which quickly spread to the upper floors and through the roof, according to Esposito.

Esposito said firefighters had to use the rear fire escape and portable ladders because the heavy fire had burned away the stairways. The fire completely gutted the inside of the building and at least nine people, including seven firefighters, suffered minor injuries. It was declared under control at 9:20 p.m.

"It's essentially destroyed and it's not going to be livable for quite some time," Esposito said of the building.

The American Red Cross said early Friday that it was providing housing for at least two families and would be meeting with several others later in the day to determine their needs.