'I will burn the world to the ground' arson suspect posted before 7-alarm blaze

One firefighter was injured fighting the New Jersey blaze that destroyed several buildings


Katie Kausch
The Patriot-News, Harrisburg, Pa.

The man charged with starting the massive fire in Bound Brook Sunday night posted several messages online that allude to fire or threaten to burn things down, court records show.

Juan Hector Padilla, 28, of East Second Street in Bound Brook, made the comments on Facebook in the two weeks leading up to the fire, an affidavit of probable cause obtained by NJ Advance Media shows.

Juan Hector Padilla, 28, was charged with arson after a fire in New Jersey prompted more than 100 firefighters to respond Sunday night. Officials say Padilla posted multiple references to setting fires on Facebook prior to the blaze. (Photo/Office of the Somerset County Prosecutor)
Juan Hector Padilla, 28, was charged with arson after a fire in New Jersey prompted more than 100 firefighters to respond Sunday night. Officials say Padilla posted multiple references to setting fires on Facebook prior to the blaze. (Photo/Office of the Somerset County Prosecutor)

"I’m thinking of burning down this building that they put up to (mess) with my head,” Padilla allegedly wrote on New Year’s Day.

Four days later, he shared a post that read, “Going to start the fire at 7.”

“I will burn the world to the ground,” Padilla’s Facebook page posted on Sunday afternoon, about four hours before the blaze began.

The Somerset County Prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the Facebook posts, citing the ongoing investigation.

Padilla was arrested Tuesday morning, two days after a blaze ripped through the Meridia II apartment building on Main Street in downtown Bound Brook. The flames spread to a second under-construction building. Both construction projects were destroyed, as were several other homes and a business in the area.

Padilla was caught on a surveillance camera entering a liquor store on Main Street, court records say, where he purchased a bottle of alcohol and cigars. He walked across the street and out of that camera’s frame, before entering the frame of another camera.

Video recorded by the second camera shows Padilla walking into the parking lot next to Meridia II, and "into the area of the origin of the fire several times,” records say.

The second time Padilla left the area, smoke was seen "emanating from the area of origin behind the subject,” records show.

Padilla denied he was near the apartment building in an interview with police, court records show. The clothes he was wearing Sunday night were collected as evidence, records say.

Padilla is charged with second-degree arson and third-degree hindering investigation, apprehension and providing false information, the prosecutor’s office said Tuesday. Additional charges could be filed as the investigation continues.

He is being held in the Somerset County Jail pending a detention hearing Friday morning. A motion to detain him as the charges are pending has been filed, court officials told NJ Advance Media.

The fire began around 8 p.m. on Sunday night in the Meridia II building, and spread quickly to the apartment across the street and several homes.

Over 100 firefighters from nearly every town in the county, as well as several from outside of Somerset, responded on Sunday. A smaller number of crews remained at the apartments on Tuesday.

No one was seriously injured in the fire. A Bound Brook firefighter suffered a sprained ankle, officials said.

It’s still not clear exactly how the fire began; officials have said an investigation into the cause will likely take months.

Between 100-200 residents were evacuated from their homes Sunday night. While many were able to return by Tuesday, a number of residents will be displaced for longer, Bound Brook officials said.

Twenty residents are temporarily displaced pending the demolition of 17-15 West Main Street building, and about 15 residents are permanently displaced after their homes were destroyed, Bound Brook officials said.

The New Jersey Red Cross is providing emergency assistance, and the Somerset County Department of Social Services is arranging temporary housing.

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©2020 The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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