Police have released images of a suspect they think is responsible for at least four fires that have broken out amid a rash of blazes in an affluent Queens neighborhood over the last several weeks.
Surveillance footage from around the time of a fire that broke out late on Wednesday at a home under construction on 67th shows a man walking behind a fence while wearing a hooded sweatshirt.
The suspect was also seen near the scene of fires in the neighborhood on Nov. 8, 15 and 17. In each fire, authorities say the suspect went into the structure, ignited flammable materials and left.
"This is a maniac and a psycho, and a mental and a killer and a houseburner," said neighbor Sam Joseph, whose home was affected in the Nov. 17 fire. "Destroys everything, families."
Joseph, who's lived in his home for 42 years, recalled the flames soaring 30 feet into the air and the heavy smoke when flames spread next door. He said the blaze ripped holes into his home's roof, and his bedroom is now unrecognizable under sheetrock, so he's sleeping on a sofa in the middle of soot.
"What a mess," the 74-year-old told NBC 4 New York just after returning home from the hospital emergency room Friday. "My heart races."
Joseph, who lives in the home with his brother on a fixed income with no insurance, said his health has been affected.
The neighborhood has been site to seven suspicious fires in the last month or so, but it's not clear if the suspect has been implicated in the other three blazes.
The first fire broke out in late October, when a vacant home caught fire on 113th Street. On Nov. 8, there was another fire at a home under construction on 112th Street, and on Nov. 17, a large fire engulfed a home being built at 66th Avenue and 108th Street.
Police said after the Nov. 17 fire that they were putting additional officers on the streets as they look for suspicious activity, and have teamed up with the FDNY's arson unit to investigate.
When the NYPD's 112th Precinct station tweeted about that fire and asked residents to avoid the area, neighbors responded with concern: "Another one?" "Why so many fires in the neighborhood lately?"
The NYPD followed up in another tweet: "We're aware of the recent rash of residential fires in #ForestHills. We're coordinating with #FDNY and other investigative authorities."
Even though no one has been injured in the fires, fire can be unpredictable, police say, and so authorities are asking for the public's help.
Joseph is hoping for a quick arrest.
"Right away, they have to. Stop this. Disaster. People can die, too. I could have been dead," he said.
The Red Cross says it will check on Joseph and assist in any way he needs.
Anyone with information about the fires is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS.