Mesa Police Arrest Suspected Christmas Tree Arsonist

Published: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 3:32pm
Updated: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 3:35pm
(Photo courtesy Mark Svoboda)
Mesa spokesman Steven Wright estimates 60 to 70 percent of the tree was damaged in the blaze, but it's considered a total loss.
(Photo courtesy City of Mesa)
Mesa's Merry Main Street Christwas tree debuted in 2015 and was worth an estimated $40,000.

Early Wednesday morning, a fire ravaged the nearly four-story Christmas tree for Mesa’s Merry Main Street Christmas celebrations.

Mesa police arrested the man they believe is responsible after he admitted to starting the fire with a book of matches.

“To see two-thirds of the tree just charred and pretty much gone, it was definitely disappointing,” said Mesa spokesman Steven Wright, who arrived on the scene before 6 a.m. The damp air still smelled like fire.

Someone called 911 at about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday morning to report the blaze at the intersection of Main Street and McDonald.

Crews arrived to find the artificial tree engulfed in fire. Wright said about 60 to 70 percent of the tree was damaged, and it's a total loss.

The tree was the only victim. No people were injured and no other structures were damaged.

Officers found Samuel Antone Johnson near the site the blaze. Johnson said in an interview he started the fire, but gave no reason. He was booked on felony charges of arson and criminal damage.

“While this news is devastating, it certainly won’t diminish Mesa’s holiday spirit.” Mayor John Giles said in a press release.

The city purchased a 20-foot live tree to replace the tree, and it’s expected to be decorated and in place by Friday.

“We’ll just figure this out and move forward, we always do,” Wright said.

After the holidays, the live stand-in will have a new home in one of Mesa’s parks. 

The Mesa Chamber of Commerce worked with businesses to purchase the estimated $40,000 tree in 2015.

The organization is collecting money to replace the artificial tree with one of similar grandeur that can be used for years to come.

Mesa’s Merry Main Street Christmas celebrations have been marked by mishaps this year.

First, warm weather thwarted the opening of the ice skating rink on Nov. 24. It's now open each evening from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. All scheduled events, such as visits with Santa, train rides and the Christmas Market are still on the schedule for this week.

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