Man arrested in New York after Christmas tree torched

The fire broke out around 12.15am outside the Fox News headquarters in New York City on Nov 8, 2021. PHOTOS: PAM SMITH - GETTR @LAUGHINGLYNX/TWITTER

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - A man was arrested on Wednesday (Dec 8) and charged with setting fire to a 15m-tall artificial Christmas tree outside the Fox News headquarters in New York City, prompting a race to extinguish the blaze in the early morning hours.

Police said that security at the headquarters had observed the man, Craig Tamanaha, climbing the tree before the fire broke out around 12.15am.

Tamanaha, 49, was arrested and later charged with seven counts including criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and arson.

The fire did not cause any injuries and police said on Wednesday that authorities were still investigating its cause. But the spectacle surprised onlookers, including one of the network's hosts who announced the fire in a live broadcast.

"This is the Fox Square in New York, outside of Fox headquarters," the host, Ms Shannon Bream, told viewers shortly after midnight. "It appears that our giant Christmas tree there, just a couple of minutes ago, was completely engulfed in flames."

A few minutes later, as a live feed showed smoke billowing above the tree, Ms Bream said that the fire seemed to have been put out.

"But we're going to monitor the situation to try to figure out what sparked this whole thing," she added.

The tree had been ceremonially lit in the news network's "All-American" Christmas special, which aired Sunday.

In a company-wide memo Wednesday that was provided by Fox News Media, Ms Suzanne Scott, the company's CEO, condemned the vandalism and said that the tree would be replaced. In a second memo later in the day, Ms Scott said the replacement tree would be installed and lit by Thursday evening.

"We will not let this deliberate and brazen act of cowardice deter us," she said. "We are in the process of rebuilding and installing a new tree as a message that there can be peace, light and joy even during a dark moment like this."

It was not immediately clear whether Tamanaha had retained a lawyer.

Police said they believed that Tamanaha was homeless and were investigating whether drugs or mental illness had played a factor. He was last arrested in March for smoking the synthetic drug known as K2, the police said.

Craig Tamanaha was charged with seven counts including criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and arson. PHOTO: REUTERS

Fox reported this month that the tree, on the Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan, was 50 feet tall and had been decorated with 10,000 ornaments and 100,000 lights. The lighting ceremony last weekend was part of an annual tradition that began in 2019.

MK Illumination, a company that specialises in "festive lighting concepts" for municipalities and corporate clients around the world, lists Fox News as a corporate client. The company says on its website that the 2019 Fox Square Christmas tree was 30 feet tall and surrounded by Nutcracker statues.

MK Illumination did not respond to a request for comment about whether it was in charge of lighting this year's Fox News Christmas tree, or what might have caused the fire.

Officials in Oakland, California, said this week that they were investigating an episode in which at least one person set fire to a 52-foot Christmas tree in Jack London Square early on Monday. An aerosol can was found near the tree after the fire was extinguished, The Sacramento Bee reported.

Authorities in Chicago are also investigating the apparent arson of a Christmas tree in Washington Square - for the third year in a row.

Mr Steve Doocy, a Fox News host, said on the air over the weekend that the network's giant Christmas tree had contributed to a festive atmosphere at its Midtown headquarters.

"When we walk in at 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning, weekdays, to go to work, the music is so orchestral and so dramatic and so big, it just puts you in the Christmas spirit," he said.

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