The towering Christmas tree outside the Fox News headquarters in New York was set on fire early Wednesday, causing first responders to race to extinguish a blaze that engulfed the 50-foot tree in Midtown Manhattan.
“It appears that our giant Christmas tree there, just a couple of minutes ago, was completely engulfed in flames,” Fox News anchor Shannon Bream told viewers shortly after midnight.
Craig Tamanaha, 49, was arrested early Wednesday and charged with setting the fire, a New York Police Department spokesperson told The Washington Post. Tamanaha faces charges including criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and arson. The man “was observed by Fox News Channel security climbing the Christmas tree decorated outside their office building near the corner of West 48 Street and Sixth Avenue” about 12:15 a.m., police said.
“Upon arrival, officers observed the male running from the location, and he was taken into custody without further incident,” the spokesperson said. “The fire within the tree was extinguished without further injury or incident by responding FDNY personnel.”
Police did not comment on a possible motive in the case. It is not clear whether Tamanaha has an attorney.
There were no injuries from the blaze, and the investigation is ongoing, authorities said. The cause of the fire will be determined by the New York fire marshal. A lighter was removed from Tamanaha, but it was not immediately clear whether an accelerant was used, police said.
In an internal memo obtained by The Post, Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott praised authorities and the company’s security team for their efforts in preventing injury from a “deliberate and brazen act of cowardice.”
“We are in the process of rebuilding and installing as a message that there can be peace, light and joy even during a dark moment like this,” Scott wrote.
The Christmas tree outside of Fox News has caught on fire. pic.twitter.com/No7SVK0JeF— Adam Parkhomenko (@AdamParkhomenko) December 8, 2021
The tree, which had been decorated with 10,000 ornaments and 100,000 lights, was lit Sunday as part of the network’s “All-American Christmas” special. The network has had a lighting ceremony for its tree since 2019.
Fox News host Steve Doocy said over the weekend on the network that the tree lifted the spirits of employees.
“When we walk in at 3 and 4 o’clock in the morning, weekdays, to go to work, the music is so orchestral and so dramatic and so big, it just puts you in the Christmas spirit,” he said.
The Fox News Christmas tree! 😍🎄 pic.twitter.com/55g0QrPzKk— Bella (@bellausa17) December 3, 2021
But after about 12:15 a.m. Wednesday, people began posting videos of the tree on fire. Police say Tamanaha climbed the structure and lighted papers he had brought with him on fire, WABC reported. He then allegedly shoved the papers into the tree, setting the structure on fire.
When Bream broke into the broadcast, she appeared stunned as the top of the tree looked to be totally charred. Only the frame and the star-shaped tree topper remained intact.
“It is a large, beautiful, highly decorated tree right there on the Avenue of the Americas,” Bream said of what remained of the tree.
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea told local media Wednesday that Tamanaha, whose last known address is in Brooklyn, is known to authorities and has a history of drug-related offenses and low-level out-of-state arrests. Shea added that it appeared the man was working alone.
“It’s all very fresh,” Shea told WPIX. “It’s probably a little preliminary to say what the motivation was. Was mental illness a factor? We’re looking at all of that.”
The incident in New York follows recent Christmas tree burnings in other major cities. In Oakland, Calif., at least one person set fire to a 52-foot Christmas tree in Jack London Square this week, according to the Sacramento Bee. An aerosol can was found near the blaze. In Chicago, the Christmas tree in Washington Park was set on fire for the third year in a row, reported CBS Chicago.
Tamanaha also faces charges of criminal nuisance, criminal trespassing, criminal tampering and disorderly conduct, police told The Post.
Hours after the tree burned outside the Fox News headquarters, the hosts of “Fox & Friends” denounced the man taken into custody as a “psycho.”
“Who could burn a Christmas tree?” co-host Ainsley Earhardt said, noting that they could now see only the metal structure that supported the tree.
Doocy, who described the tree as “a symbol to so many people around the world,” promised viewers Wednesday that it would be “back before Christmas.”
“Some guy wanted to burn it down, and he did. One guy with a lighter is not going to stop us,” the co-host said. “We’re going to rebuild that tree and have one out there as soon as possible.”
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