SPRINGFIELD — More than 16 people are homeless and a firefighter was injured after a Hancock Street resident lit his own bed on fire, according to a police report.
Christopher Watkins, 35, was arrested after he told an emergency dispatcher he set the fire on July 21, then fled the scene when police and firefighters arrived.
Fire Department Capt. Drew Piemonte said a firefighter suffered minor injuries as he battled the blaze and heavy black smoke, according to police reports. Sixteen other residents of the public housing unit were displaced and are receiving assistance from the Red Cross, Piemonte said.
The fire broke out just before 7 a.m. Police were dispatched to the apartment building at 500 Hancock St. to find billowing black smoke coming out of one apartment. They began banging on residents’ doors to tell them to evacuate, the police narrative says. They were unable to get to apartment B-5 because the most intense smoke was emanating from that unit.
Meanwhile, firefighters and the Arson Unit arrived at the scene, the report said, and reported that Watkins called 911 and told the dispatcher: “I set the bed on fire.”
The dispatcher advised Watkins to get out of the apartment but stay on scene. He heeded half that advice.
Watkins took off but remained on the phone with the dispatcher, who asked him twice whether he started the fire.
“Mr. Watkins replied ‘Yes,‘” the report states.
Watkins was arrested the same day and charged with burning a dwelling. He was arraigned in Springfield District Court the next day and will be held without bail until a dangerousness hearing scheduled for July 27, when a judge will evaluate whether Watkins can be safely released while awaiting trial.
Piemonte said the building, owned by the Springfield Housing Authority, sustained more than $100,000 in damage.