Police arrest alleged arsonist, who they say confessed

NORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) – Multiple law enforcement agencies worked together Tuesday to arrest a man who they say confessed to starting nine fires at six locations overnight in North Tonawanda and the City of Tonawanda.

Christopher Syracuse is facing 13 counts of arson and criminal mischief in North Tonawanda and will also face charges in the City of Tonawanda. Police say he definitely acted alone.

PHOTOS | See photos from each fire scene

Police say several tips led them directly to the 26-year-old City of Tonawanda resident, who was taken into custody around 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday. He was placed under arrest around 9:00 p.m., after police say he confessed to starting all of the fires.

It was clear early on that all of the fires were not a coincidence.

“Someone is setting fires in North Tonawanda and the City of Tonawanda and we don’t know who it is right now,” said Chief of Police William Hall, early Tuesday morning.

Chief Hall says Syracuse gave a reason for his actions, but at a press conference late Tuesday night, he would not elaborate. Syracuse does not have a criminal history to speak of, beside a single charge of petit larceny, and has no mental health history.

Police say they do not believe drugs or alcohol are involved and say Syracuse has been cooperative.

The first fire sparked on Meadow around 11:30 p.m. in a dumpster behind Tops. An hour later, fire crews were called to Zimmerman Street, where a red pickup truck smoldered in a driveway, two homes were damaged and garbage totes burned.

Map of Fire Locations:
fires

It was from behind a plaza on Zimmerman that police were able to obtain a video of the suspected arsonist from a surveillance camera. Police say that evidence led to several helpful tips from the public, especially after it aired on media outlets.

Shortly after that fire, firefighters were called to a blaze on Ganson Street, where a car in a driveway was burning as was a garbage tote across the street.

Video of suspected arsonist:

Following the fire on Ganson Street, crews were dispatched to Ransom Street where a truck was lit on fire. The blaze also damaged the home.

“Why would someone want to do this to someone?” questioned Betty Schrevongost, who lives at the home. “I know it’s just material possessions and it shouldn’t mean much, but you work hard all your life and someone just comes along and tears up your property.”

The next fire was on Goundry Street and started in a vehicle around 1:10 a.m. Flames spread to an eight-unit apartment building. Four of the apartments were occupied.

The apartment house fire was the worst of all of the nine fires set by the arsonist. Read more about that fire here.

Goundry Street Fire, North Tonawanda
Goundry Street Fire, North Tonawanda, Click to see more photos

The last fire was set over the canal in the City of Tonawanda on Enterprise Avenue. A car was also set on fire there.

In all, more than 100 firefighters, full-time and volunteer, put the fires out fast enough to avoid any serious injury.

Before Syracuse’s arrest, North Tonawanda Fire Chief John Lapham told residents they should not be scared.

“The crews are rested up; I’m sure they slept most of the day. They’ll be ready. We’re fully staffed and we’ll be back on the streets again,” he assured.

Police believe an accelerant was used in all of the fires. It could take a week to 10 days to determine what type was used.

Syracuse will be arraigned Wednesday morning in North Tonawanda City Court.

The assistant fire chief told News 4 he does not believe this is a copy-cat situation from the fires last month on 5th Street. In that case, Michelle Johnston is charged with multiple counts of arson. She is being held without bail.

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