Smoke and fire damage in the men’s bathroom at the Mendenhall Mall on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Smoke and fire damage in the men’s bathroom at the Mendenhall Mall on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Toilet paper arson burns mall bathroom

Suspect sent to hospital with mental health concerns, police say

A man who appeared to be having a mental health crisis is suspected of starting a fire in a Mendenhall Mall bathroom Tuesday, authorities say.

The small fire, which Capital City Fire/Rescue Fire Marshal Dan Jager said began with a flaming roll of toilet paper, didn’t cause any injuries. Juneau Police Department officers identified the suspect as a 42-year-old Juneau man, JPD Lt. Krag Campbell said via email Wednesday. Campbell said the man has not been charged with a crime and JPD isn’t publicly identifying the suspect at this point.

“The reason we are not releasing the name is because after JPD detained him, it seemed like the person was suffering more from a mental health crisis,” Campbell said. “So the person went to the hospital rather than the jail.”

The bathroom blaze capped off a chaotic afternoon for CCFR responders, Assistant Chief Tod Chambers said Wednesday. Some crew members were responding to an alarm at the University of Alaska Southeast when a call came in at 5:12 p.m. that there was heavy smoke in the bathroom at the Mendenhall Mall.

“That was a fairly confusing time,” Chambers, who was the chief on duty, said. “We had multiple calls going on at once. We had two alarms going off simultaneously. We had a fire alarm at UAS, and then smoke in the bathroom (at the mall) was what we were going out for.”

Chambers and what he called “a minimal crew” — Jager said it was just two CCFR responders and a JPD officer — arrived at the mall and found thick, dark smoke in the men’s bathroom behind Verizon, he said. There were still people shopping and there were even children still at the nearby daycare when CCFR arrived, Chambers said. They didn’t have enough firefighters to do a full evacuation, Chambers said, so they tried to knock down the fire as rapidly as possible.

They found toilet paper burning in the bathroom, Chambers said, and quickly extinguished the fire. Jager said the JPD officer helped put out the fire. Jager said the toilet paper was used to start the fire, and that when the fire consumed the plastic container around the toilet paper, that caused the dark smoke.

The fire caused about $5,000 in damage, Jager wrote in a press release. Investigators with CCFR and JPD looked at video from the store and were able to identify the suspect, according to the release.

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

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