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Fire at Comet Ping Pong was intentionally set, fire and police officials say

Comet Ping Pong in Northwest Washington, shown in December 2016. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

A small fire that burned curtains and forced the evacuation of the Comet Ping Pong pizza shop Wednesday night in Northwest Washington was intentionally set, according to D.C. police and fire officials.

A police report says investigators found several burned matches on the floor under where the curtain had hung in a backroom. The report says they also found a box of matches and an open, partially full plastic bottle of lighter fluid on a table.

The report says the curtains were destroyed in the fire, which was extinguished by staff members.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on Friday evening released a photo of a man they are seeking to question in the incident. Federal authorities described him as a white man between 25 and 30 years-old, who has blonde hair, a mustache and beard and wore a blue and white varsity-style jacket and blue jeans.

No one was injured in the fire, which occurred shortly before 9:30 p.m. at the restaurant in the 5000 block of Connecticut Avenue NW. The popular shop in the Chevy Chase neighborhood combines pizza with ping-pong tables.

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Authorities said there is no initial indication that the fire is linked to the incident in 2016 when Comet Ping Pong was targeted by a North Carolina man who showed up there with a fully loaded AR-15 military-style rifle and a revolver seeking to investigate a viral Internet rumor known as “Pizzagate.”

The man, Edgar Maddison Welch, was investigating a false conspiracy theory that linked Hillary Clinton to an alleged child-sex-trafficking ring and asserted that child victims were being held in tunnels under the restaurant. Welch pleaded guilty to assault and a federal firearms charge in 2017 and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Comet’s owner, James Alefantis, said he has no reason to believe the fire is linked to what happened in 2016, an event that thrust him and his neighborhood shop into the national discussion over the dangers posed by the widely circulated false stories.

“That was years ago,” Alefantis said Friday.

D.C. police said that about two hours before the fire, a restaurant employee reported receiving several prank calls from a woman. A police report did not detail what the woman had said.

Alefantis said that the restaurant routinely gets crank calls and that the policy is to report all of them to police.

Clarence Williams contributed to this report.