A man accused of intentionally starting a deadly five-alarm fire inside a SoHo apartment building after a domestic dispute with his child's mother may have lit several small fires in the hallway and apartment that eventually spread, NBC 4 New York has learned.
Wei Chu Wu, 45, is charged with first-degree arson, second-degree murder and second-degree attempted assault of a police officer for allegedly fighting with first responders to keep them from entering the building at 41 Spring St. as the flames spread. A police officer suffered a broken hand in the confrontation, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.
Witnesses said they saw the suspect start a fire in the second-floor hallway about 6:40 p.m. Thursday after he got into an argument with a woman described by officials as the mother of his child. A source familiar with the investigation tells NBC 4 New York that he also may have lit other fires inside the apartment.
The fire quickly spread to the roof, and by the time firefighters arrived on the scene, the back of the building was fully engulfed, according to FDNY Chief of Fire Operations James Esposito. The fire wiped out the entire stairwell between the second and fifth floors of the building.
Neighbors said they heard several different cries for help.
"First we smelled it and thought it was the curling iron in the dressing room," said George Brown. "Then we heard a fellow yelling for help -- standing on the second-floor fire escape, yelling for help."
Gilda Bueno said she saw flames and heard a woman screaming, "Someone, please help me."
The person who died was on an upper floor at the time of the fire, Esposito said. Law enforcement officials said the body was so badly burned they haven't been able to identify the deceased person.
The suspect's child and the child's mother are accounted for.
Wu was awaiting arraignment and it was not immediately clear whether he had a lawyer.
About 200 firefighters responded to the blaze, which was declared under control after about three hours. Two civilians and seven firefighters suffered minor injuries.
"He's ruined more than just one life," Bueno said of Wu. "He's ruined a lot of lives. It's very sad for all of us."
A firefighter from Los Angeles who was on vacation in New York City first noticed the fire from across the street as he was picking up pizza and rushed over to help. The suspect tried to keep him out, and proceeded to fight with the first responders who arrived on the scene.
"He knocked me one time, didn't want me to go in the second time," Vincent Gutierrez told NBC 4 New York on Friday.
The building is mixed retail-residential, with a Pinkberry frozen yogurt shop occupying the ground floor.