Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in a Sacramento suburb Friday after part of a regional mall was consumed by an arson fire that collapsed portions of the roof, destroyed 20 stores and caused at least $6.5 million in damage.
Yet city officials said unburned sections of the upscale Westfield Galleria at Roseville could reopen within weeks, in time for the holiday shopping season.
"I think you're going to be surprised," said Roseville city manager Ray Kerridge. "They've got to be online by Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving that traditionally starts major holiday sales. The mall draws shoppers from a large portion of Northern California and generates $3.2 million in annual sales taxes for the city of nearly 116,000.
Roseville Fire Department spokesman Dennis Mathisen said about 20 of the Westfield Galleria's more than 200 stores, including Finish Line, Anchor Blue and PacSun, were destroyed along with the GameStop video game store where the fire was set Thursday.
Two anchor stores near the fire's origin — Macy's and JC Penney — were not as severely damaged.
Smoke lapped into the mall's center court where Santa Claus would normally set up shop next month. But smoke, water and fire damage was limited in the rest of the 1.3-million-square-foot mall, and a newer portion of the mall was barely affected, Mathisen said.
Large portions of the roof collapsed onto the burned section of the mall about 17 miles east of the state capital, and a major supporting wall spanning about 200 feet was in danger of collapse.
Schwarzenegger declared the state of emergency after officials projected damage would top $6.5 million. The emergency declaration will help those who have lost jobs and will suspend certain rules to accelerate reconstruction.
Westfield Group spokeswoman Katy Dickey said mall stores employ 2,500 people and host 14 million visitors each year.
City officials said they were working to develop a more accurate damage estimate. Roseville police spokeswoman Dee Dee Gunther said the preliminary figure was based on the legal statute used to hold 23-year-old Alexander Corney Piggee without bail on suspicion of arson, entering a building intending to commit arson and making criminal threats.
GameStop employees told police that Piggee said he had a gun, made incoherent statements about his family and ordered them out of the store before he set it on fire and hid in a back room.
Police and prosecutors said there was no indication that Piggee, whose name they originally spelled as Pigee, had an attorney. He had given no motive, said Roseville Police Lt. Mike Doane, though Piggee's mother has said her son had mental health problems.
The mother, Mary Carter, told KCRA-TV in Sacramento that her son had been rotating among family members since she told him to move out of the family house several months ago because he was old enough to live on his own.
Piggee, in a telephone interview from the Placer County Jail, blamed his relatives for his decision to set the fire. He told KOVR-TV in Sacramento that he tried to get mental health treatment and tried to sleep at a homeless shelter but was turned away.
"I mean, it's funny how people will say that they care about me, but it takes, I mean, to eventually set a mall on fire for people to actually start caring. 'Cause those same people that say that they care are the same people that I asked for a place to stay and for food, for money," he told the television station.
Piggee also said he deliberately chose to set the fire just after the mall opened, when he knew there would be few customers.
"Yeah, I feel bad. My objective was to hurt me and not to hurt other people," he said.
He also denied having explosives in a backpack that he brought into the GameStop. Police kept firefighters away from the mall for several hours while they waited for a bomb squad to find and examine the backpack, a decision that gave the fire time to spread. The mall's roof collapsed on the backpack and a bomb disposal robot.
Sacramento Metro Fire Department spokesman Christian Pebbles said Piggee also is the suspect in a similar fire before dawn Wednesday that caused more than $5,000 damage to a Walmart Supercenter's garden department. He has not been charged in that case.