PD: Suspect admits setting fire to Mesa's giant Christmas tree

Posted: Updated:
Samuel Johnson (Source: MCSO) Samuel Johnson (Source: MCSO)
Samuel Johnson (Source: MCSO) Samuel Johnson (Source: MCSO)
(Source: City of Mesa) (Source: City of Mesa)
Courtesy: Mesa Chamber of Commerce Courtesy: Mesa Chamber of Commerce
Courtesy: Mesa Chamber of Commerce Courtesy: Mesa Chamber of Commerce
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

A suspected arsonist is in custody after police say he admitted setting fire to Mesa's Merry Main Street Christmas tree.

On Wednesday, around 2:30 a.m., Mesa Fire and Medical and Mesa Police Departments responded to 6 N. MacDonald for a report of a fire.

Upon arrival, they found the giant tree was fully engulfed in flames. Mesa Fire and Medical crews quickly extinguished the fire, but the tree was a total loss.

[RAW VIDEO: Suspect accused of arson on Mesa Christmas tree faces judge]

During a search of the area, officers located a person of interest.

Investigators began to interview the suspect about the fire. During the interview, the suspect, 34-year-old Samuel Antone Johnson, admitted that he started the fire to the tree with a book of matches. He did not provide a motive for his actions

Johnson has been booked for one count of arson and one count of criminal damage.

[PDF: Court documents for Samuel Antone Johnson]

Despite the loss of the tree, the Christmas festivities will go on in Mesa.

“While this news is devastating, it certainly won’t diminish Mesa’s holiday spirit.” Mayor John Giles said. “The City is working on activating the site for this weekend including a live tree that will be transplanted to a City park later this month.”

The Merry Main Street Christmas Tree was sponsored by the Mesa Chamber of Commerce and more than a dozen private businesses when purchased in 2015 and was valued at more than $40,000.  The Chamber is taking the lead on a fundraising campaign to replace the tree.

[RELATED: Phoenix police arrest Christmas crooks who stole decorations]

“We are saddened by this turn of events.” Chamber President/CEO Sally Harrison said. “Our members that stepped up to sponsor the tree are disappointed but we are excited to take on the challenge to reach out to our community and East Valley friends to raise funds to purchase a new tree as soon as possible.”

Those individuals and organizations interested in making a donation can go to the Mesa Chamber’s website at www.mesachamber.org and click on the button for donating to the tree.

Merry Main Street will continue with all its festivities, including the Winter Wonderland Ice Rink, the Mesa Christmas Market, photos with Santa and rise on the City’s trackless train, Main Street Express. For a complete list of Merry Main Street activities visit www.merrymainst.com

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