A man was arrested on Wednesday and charged with setting fire to a 50-foot-tall artificial Christmas tree outside Fox News headquarters in New York City, sparking a race to put out the blaze in the early hours of the morning.
Police said security at headquarters saw the man, Craig Tamanaha, climb the structure before the fire broke out at around 12:15 a.m. criminal fire.
The blaze did not injure anyone and police said on Wednesday authorities were still investigating its causes. But the show surprised spectators, including one of the network hosts who announced the fire live.
“This is Fox Square in New York, outside of Fox Headquarters”, host Shannon Bream, told viewers shortly after midnight. “It looks like our giant Christmas tree over there just a few minutes ago was completely engulfed in flames.”
Minutes later, as a live broadcast showed smoke rising above the tree, Ms Bream said the fire appeared to have been extinguished. “But we will be monitoring the situation to try to understand what started it all,” she added.
The tree was ceremoniously lit on the network’s “All-American” Christmas special, which aired Sunday.
In a company-wide memo released by Fox News Media Wednesday, Suzanne Scott, the company’s chief executive, condemned the vandalism and said the tree would be replaced. (In a second note later today, Ms Scott said the replacement tree would be installed and lit by Thursday night.)
“We will not let this deliberate and brazen act of cowardice deter us,” said Ms Scott. “We are rebuilding and installing a new tree as a message that there can be peace, light and joy even during a dark time like this.”
It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Tamanaha had retained the services of a lawyer.
But police said they believed he was homeless and were investigating whether drugs or mental illness played a role. He was last arrested in March for smoking the designer drug known as K2, police said.
Fox reported this month that the tree, on Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan, was 50 feet high and had been decorated with 10,000 ornaments and 100,000 lights. Last weekend’s lighting ceremony was part of an annual tradition that began in 2019.
MK Illumination, a company specializing in “festive lighting concepts” for municipalities and corporate clients around the world, lists Fox News as a corporate customer. The company says on its website that the Fox Square 2019 Christmas tree was 30 feet tall and was surrounded by Nutcracker statues.
MK Illumination did not respond to a request for comment on whether it was responsible for lighting the Fox News Christmas tree this year, or what could have caused the blaze.
Officials in Oakland, California, said this week that they were investigating an episode in which at least one person set a 52-foot Christmas tree on fire in Jack London Square early Monday. An aerosol can was found near the tree after the fire was extinguished, Sacramento Bee Reported.
Chicago authorities are also investigate the apparent arson of a Christmas tree in Washington Square – for the third year in a row.
Steve Doocy, a Fox News host, said on the air Over the weekend the network’s giant Christmas tree had contributed to a festive atmosphere at its Midtown headquarters.
“When we come in at 3 and 4 in the morning on weekdays to go to work, the music is so orchestral and so dramatic and so great, it just puts you in the Christmas spirit,” Mr Doocy said.
Troy Closson and Neil vigdor contributed reports.