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One Dead After Man Sets Fire to Spring Street Building, Police Say

By  Andrea Swalec Trevor Kapp Julie  Shapiro and Aidan Gardiner | January 10, 2013 7:07pm | Updated on January 11, 2013 12:30pm

NOLITA — One person was killed and nine people were hurt when a man set fire to a Spring Street building Thursday evening and then fought with the police officers and firefighters who responded to the five-alarm blaze, officials said.

The suspect, Wei Chu Wu, 45, had just had an argument with his wife when he started the fire in the hallway outside his second-floor apartment in 41 Spring St. about 6:40 p.m., police said.

The flames quickly spread both vertically and horizontally in the five-story building between Mulberrry and Mott streets, which has a Pinkberry frozen yogurt shop on the ground floor and eight apartments above, according to the FDNY.

Wu tried to prevent first responders from entering the burning building, and he broke a 5th Precinct officer's hand in the ensuing scuffle, said Paul Browne, the NYPD's chief spokesman.

"He fought with both firefighters and police," Browne said.

Wu was arrested and taken to New York Downtown Hospital with bruises and other minor injuries, Browne said. He's been charged with arson, murder, attempting to assault a police officer, and resisting arrest.

Witnesses said that Wu stood outside the building, watching the flames engulf the building before firefighters arrived.

“I was standing next to him," said Wai Kong. "He was standing there, nonchalant, in a tank top, shorts, and slippers."

The building's superintendent ran outside and the two started arguing, Kong said. And when emergency crews arrived, he argued with them too.

Witnesses said the suspect looked battered and dazed as police walked him toward Lafayette Street.

"His lip was broken and he was bleeding from his eyes. He had a white shirt with blood stains," 23-year-old Mary Delgado, who works in the area, said Friday morning. "He had a blank look on his face like he knew he did it."

The suspect's wife and child both got out of the building safely, but one person was pronounced dead at the scene after being found "burned beyond recognition" on the third-floor fire escape, Browne said.

"We're working on the premise that the victim was a resident of the building unrelated to the dispute," Browne said.

The victim was not immediately identified Thursday evening.

Nine other people, including seven firefighters, were taken to New York Downtown Hospital with minor injuries including smoke inhalation, the FDNY said.

Two-hundred firefighters raced to the NoLita building to battle the blaze, as flames shot from windows and smoke clouded the air for blocks, witnesses said.

Firefighters brought the fire under control by about 9:20 p.m., a spokesman said.

Both the FDNY and the NYPD were investigating the fire as an arson case, officials said.

The fire was particularly heavy in the rear of the building, the FDNY said.

Robin Goldberg, who lives on Broome Street, heard the fire engines and then looked out her window to see the blaze.

"I saw flames shooting out of the top of the building," she said. "It was so intense."

On Thursday evening, Spring Street was closed between Lafayette and Elizabeth streets, and Mulberry Street was closed between Kenmare and East Houston streets, according to the city's Office of Emergency Management.