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Fire flares at Calif. mall after standoff

Fire flares Thursday afternoon at a Roseville, Calif.,  mall after authorities detain a man after a person started a fire and barricaded himself inside a store, according to
Firefighters battle a blaze Thursday afternoon at the Westfield Galleria in Roseville, Calif. The fire erupted after a suspect was arrested after a standoff earlier in the day.
Firefighters battle a blaze Thursday afternoon at the Westfield Galleria in Roseville, Calif. The fire erupted after a suspect was arrested after a standoff earlier in the day.NBC News
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A raging fire started by a suspected arsonist left the upscale Westfield Galleria at Roseville in a catastrophic state Thursday afternoon, NBC affiliate KCRA reported.

Smoke billowed skyward and flames shot from the roof, leaving the mall, where the suspect earlier barricaded himself inside, with significant smoke and water damage, officials said. Firefighters declared the blaze contained around 9 p.m. but continued monitoring hot spots late into the night.

Damage to the 1.3 million-square-foot, 240-store mall also is dealing an economic blow to a region struggling to emerge from the recession, officials said.

Roseville authorities identified the suspect as Alexander Piggee, a 23-year-old man who apparently abandoned a backpack inside the mall, KCRA said. He was booked into the Placer County Jail in connection with the earlier standoff and a smaller blaze at the mall.

Piggee, whose last name was also given as Pigee, is accused of arson and may face other charges, police said. He was taken to a hospital briefly Thursday afternoon and returned to jail.

He is also a suspect in a blaze at a Wal-mart, where he formerly worked, that suffered $5,000 damage.

On a Facebook page, Piggee says he is from Stockton, Calif., and suffers from bipolar disorder.

Image: assailant taken into custody
Oct. 21, 2010 - San Francisco, California, USA - The assailant is taken into custody and brought out to a squad car to be taken away by a placer county sheriff officers in front of the mall. October 21, 2010. (Credit Image: ? Sacramento Bee/ Patrick / Sacramento Bee

The mall, which includes Nordstrom and Sears, suffered significant damage in the wing housing JCPenney and Macy's, Roseville Fire Chief Dennis Mathisen said.

City officials said part of the roof on the mall's south end collapsed. After the clouds of smoke cleared, overhead television images showed the charred remains of retail stores, many of which were gutted.

The Galleria generates approximately $3.2 million for Roseville in annual sales tax revenue and could be closed or limited in operations for months.

"This is a real blow. This is sad," Roseville Mayor Gina Garbolino told reporters.

She said city officials would do whatever they could to get the mall rebuilt "as soon as humanly possible."

The entire mall will be closed until authorities determine whether any parts of it can be reopened.

The incident began around 10:30 a.m. (1:30 p.m. ET) after a man entered the GameStop store on the popular regional mall's second floor, spoke incoherently about his sister being held captive and ordered store clerks out.

Police and firefighters responded, and the mall was evacuated by 11:15 a.m.

The man apparently started a small fire but authorities had thought the mall's sprinkler system had doused the blaze, officials said.

There were no reports of hostages or injuries, said Megan MacPherson, spokeswoman for the city of Roseville.

Police later said the fire began spreading as members of the bomb squad were examining the backpack, forcing them to flee the building.

"We weren't able to get in there because there was a potential bomb there," Sacramento Metro spokesman Christian Pebbles said.

Piggee was brought outside the mall by police, and he was questioned as he sat on a bench. At about 1 p.m., he was loaded into a police car and taken to the Roseville jail.

Roseville Police Lt. Mike Doane said Piggee was trying to hide when he was found by police, KCRA reported.

Piggee is also suspected of playing a role in a fire at a Wal-Mart in Sacramento County earlier in the day, Capt. Christian Pebbles of Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, told KCRA.

The Sacramento Bee reported police are looking to see if Piggee was connected to a fire Wednesday in Antelope and another fire in the area.

TV pictures around 2 p.m. showed a large plume of thick, black smoke billowing from the roof near Macy's. KCRA reported a partial roof collapse on the south side of the mall around 3 p.m.

Firefighters were unable to advance on the fire as quickly as they wanted to because of concerns that explosives were inside the abandoned backpack, officials said.

"It has affected our ability to get inside as quickly as we wanted to," Mathisen said, noting the backpack is now buried under debris.

Authorities said the suspect claimed to have a firearm at one point before he barricaded himself in the GameStop's back room and set the first, smaller blaze.

Investigators said the motive behind the standoff was not clear.

Operated by Westfield Corp., the Galleria was built in 2000. It underwent a $270 million expansion that was completed in 2008, adding Louis Vuitton, Tiffany and Burberry and other high-end stores.

Westfield Group spokeswoman Katy Dickey said there are no estimates on the cost of the damage because the fire was still burning.

The Bee described the Galleria as being a game changer for Roseville, transforming the suburb 17 miles west of the capital into one of the regions retail hubs.

A Hyatt opened next to the mall, which serves as "home court" for the Sacramento Capitals team tennis franchise, the Bee said.