Fire intentionally set at Walmart could have been ‘catastrophic,’ report says

Crime Watch

A judge’s gavel is shown in a file photo. (Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — About 70 people were inside the Walmart on Colony Street when a fire ignited inside the store the morning of Jan. 27.

A product rack containing a “plastic flower-type product” had been set ablaze, with burn damage and charring starting from the base of the rack and traveling toward the ceiling, covering roughly a 6-foot area, according to arson investigators. The store’s sprinkler system activated and prevented flames from spreading.

Surveillance video showed Nicholas Casteel, 31, hurrying from the area where the fire began, an investigator wrote in a report filed in Superior Court that recently became available. Casteel was arrested later that day and found in possession of a torch-style lighter, the report says.

The investigator was able to quickly identify Casteel because he had arrested him on a prior case of arson in August of last year.

Casteel is also accused of setting a fire inside a Ross Dress for Less on Ming Avenue the same morning of the Walmart blaze. He has pleaded not guilty to arson charges, and had a court hearing Thursday postponed to April 29.

If the sprinkler system hadn’t activated, the situation could have turned dire for those inside the Walmart, an investigator wrote, noting that most of the product racks contain flammable items.

“I believe that if a fire suppression sprinkler system was not in place at Walmart and the amount of combustibles present, the fire would have been catastrophic and lives could have been lost,” the investigator wrote. “Casteel’s disregard for human life and property is clearly evident in his actions and carelessness in lighting fire repeatedly to property and inhabited structures.”

An employee at Ross Dress for Less identified Casteel as standing next to the area where the fire started, burning several shirts hanging from a clothing rack, according to a court filing. The fire was quickly extinguished by store employees.

Casteel is held on $2 million bail.

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