One person was killed and at least nine were injured on Wednesday night in a five-alarm fire that quickly engulfed an apartment building in Soho. Police say they’ve arrested a man who was seen starting the fire in the hallway outside his second-floor apartment after arguing with his wife. Authorities haven’t released his name, but police sources identified him to the Post as 45-year-old Wei Chu Wu. He was taken into custody after trying to prevent firefighters from entering the building when they arrived on the scene, and neighbors say they heard him yell, “I’m going to light this fire and die with you,” before setting the blaze.
The fire, which was reported at 6:42 p.m., tore upwards to the roof of the five-story building at 41 Spring Street, killing someone in one of the upper floors. The victim died on a fire escape and was burned beyond recognition. Following his arrest, Wu was hospitalized with bruises, and his wife, Yan He Zheng, and 13-year-old son were taken to the police station “in good health,” according to NYPD spokesman Paul Browne. Seven firefighters and at least two other people were injured in the fire, and a police officer broke his hand while fighting with Wu.
It took nearly 200 firefighters about two and a half hours to get the blaze under control on the narrow block between Mulberry and Mott Streets, according to the New York Times. James Esposito, chief of operations for the Fire Department, said there was an “extraordinary amount of fire,” and since the interior staircases were destroyed, firefighters had to use fire escapes and ladders. “The fire encompassed all the walls, all the floors,” he said. “We have a partial collapse inside the building right now. It’s essentially destroyed.”
Neighbors told the Daily News that Zheng lost his job about six months ago, which sparked arguments with his wife. Sources said she and their son fled the building after he cut her hand during their fight. “I saw the guy with a bloody shirt, a black eye and no shoes. The cops were leading him away in handcuffs. I figured he started the fire,” neighbor William Bray told the Post. “My son plays with [Wu’s] son in the park. They seem like a normal family.”
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This post has been updated throughout.