It doesn’t look like an accident.
Police and fire marshals suspect that the massive fire that tore through multiple floors of the Kings Plaza Shopping Center parking garage on Sept. 17 was arson.
Shortly after releasing a surveillance photo taken in the vicinity around the time of the incident showing a man wanted for questioning, police announced the suspect’s arrest.
The blaze injured 20 firefighters and six civilians, but none of the injuries were life threatening, and they were removed to an area hospital in stable condition, according to a spokesman for the Fire Department.
The flames consumed multiple vehicles on the second floor of the Flatbush Avenue garage between avenues U and V, before responders controlled the flames around 11:45 am, according to the department.
Some 200 firefighters from more than 50 units, including three marine units, rushed to combat the seven-alarm inferno after it was reported at 8:28 am, the department said.
Mall officials closed the shopping center and alerted patrons to avoid the area via social media posts shared around 9 am, roughly 30 minutes after New York’s Bravest arrived on the scene, and an hour before its normal 10 am weekday opening time. The mall was closed for the rest of the day due to the fire, according to a tweeted statement.
“Due to fire in garage, Kings Plaza will be closed today. We appreciate your understanding and look forward to seeing you soon,” the mall officials tweeted.
Reps for the mall could not be reached for comment.
Police blocked surrounding streets and rerouted traffic in the area, according to one nearby resident, who said she could see the smoke from her house.
“I can see the smoke from my balcony. My landlord saw a lot of fire trucks and he said every street is blocked off,” said Debbie Russo, who lives two blocks away from the mall on Avenue U.
One nearby Mill Basinite said that he heard what he believed was tires exploding when he left to get breakfast in the morning.
“I came out in the back yard and I was going to get breakfast and I thought I heard firecrackers going off in the distance, and when I turned the corner onto Avenue U I saw the smoke coming out of the Plaza,” said Michael Wright.
After the explosions, which Wright said sounded like tires blowing up, the smoke started spreading throughout the area, he said.
“It was just like, ‘boom,’ and two minutes later, ‘boom’ again, and I thought ‘what’s going on?’ ” he said. “The whole neighborhood was filled with smoke and people were covering their faces up.”
Another local said that she first noticed a terrible smell when she was heading to work around 9 am.
“When I was leaving the house to go to work, there was a really dense smell of smoke around. It smelled like burning rubber, it was very strong, and I didn’t know what it was so I called 311,” said Marine Parker Stella Panzarino.
Panzarino said she went outside to see the smoke billowing into the neighborhood.
“I was on my porch and you couldn’t miss the smoke, it was all blowing in our direction. At first, it was just like a dense heavy fog, and two minutes later it was all black,” Panzarino said.
By 3:30 pm, the mall was completely closed and the parking lot was roped off with fire tape, according to another Marine Park resident who was at the scene five minutes after it started and stayed there for most of the day.
“The mall was closed and the parking lot was completely cordoned off with fire tape,” said Charles Jones.