‘It’s beginning to look a lot like arson’: Suspect charged in Fox News Christmas tree fire

Richard Drew/AP Photo

A suspect is in police custody and has been charged with arson after allegedly setting fire to the 50-foot-tall “All-American Christmas Tree” outside Fox News headquarters in midtown Manhattan, the New York City Police Department confirmed on Wednesday.

Craig Tamanaha, a 49-year-old man who is homeless, was observed by Fox security around 12:14 a.m. early Wednesday scaling the tree at “Fox Square,” located on the Avenue of the Americas at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 48th Street, according to an NYPD spokesperson.

The 44-story office tower there houses the Rupert Murdoch-founded News Corp. and some of the media conglomerate’s high-profile assets, including the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal.

Fox security saw Tamanaha running from the scene and apprehended him without incident, the spokesperson said, and the fire was extinguished by the New York City Fire Department. The cause of the blaze will be determined by New York City fire marshals.

Tamanaha, who is in NYPD custody at Midtown Precinct North, has been charged with arson, criminal mischief, criminal nuisance, criminal tampering, criminal trespassing, disorderly conduct and reckless endangerment, the spokesperson said.

In an update on the incident on Wednesday morning, “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade said the suspect “went into the tree” with what appeared to be “some paper” and “lit the whole thing on fire in a matter of seconds.”

A Fox security officer then “tackled [the suspect] to the ground,” Kilmeade said, before a broader law enforcement presence — including police, firefighters and arson investigators — arrived on the scene.

“The cops came from everywhere. Our security guys are fantastic. They were able to jump right on him. A lot of retired detectives,” Kilmeade said. The incident, he added, “is beyond tragic and angers everybody. And that smoke, by the way, filled up our entire lobby.”

Co-host Steve Doocy said that, according to eyewitness accounts, the suspect climbed “about halfway up [the tree], because there is a metal superstructure underneath it,” carrying “a bunch of newspapers under his arm.” The suspect then lit the newspapers on fire, and “went down and watched it burn,” Doocy said.

Doocy noted that the co-hosts had not yet seen the police report on the incident, but he assessed: “It’s beginning to look a lot like arson.”

The arrest comes after Fox News host Shannon Bream carried live footage in the network’s midnight hour of law enforcement working to secure the scene on the smoke-filled plaza. “Our thanks to the crews, who look like they’ve just about got that thing under control,” she said shortly before 12:30 a.m.

Hosts from Fox News and Fox Nation, the network’s subscription video streaming service, presided over the tree’s third annual lighting on Sunday as part of an hour-long holiday special.

The “red, white and blue themed” tree is decorated “with 10,000 glass ornaments [and] 100,000 lights,” according to Fox News, and it took “over 21 hours to assemble.”

In a company-wide internal memo addressing the tree fire, Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott referred to the incident as “a malicious arson attack” and said “smoke permeated the building” as a result.

“There were no injuries and thankfully all employees working inside the building remained safe throughout the duration of the fire,” Scott said.

On Wednesday morning, the “Fox & Friends” co-hosts expressed similar outrage over the fire and vowed that a new tree would soon be installed on the “Fox Square” plaza.

“This is vandalism,” said co-host Ainsley Earhardt. “You know, Fox had to pay for this tree. Fox had to put all the ornaments on it. Fox gives so much joy to all of you when you come to New York and you see it — or when you see it on TV, or you walk into the building, or you’re walking around the building and you hear the music.”

“Someone did this to spoil our Christmas,” Earhardt said. “But that’s not going to happen. This scrooge is not going to get away with it.”

Kilmeade then sought to compare the network’s tree to the iconic, 79-foot-tall Christmas tree at nearby Rockefeller Center, where NBC is headquartered.

“I get it,” Kilmeade said. “NBC’s been around forever. And every year, the [NBC] Christmas tree has been around, since TV was black and white. I understand that. But over the last few years, this [Fox News tree] has become a huge tourist attraction.”

Referring to the fire at “Fox Square,” Kilmeade said: “This is part of a bigger problem. It’s the crime surge in this country.”

Doocy, for his part, argued that the tree outside Fox News headquarters “is a symbol to so many people in so many different ways.” Therefore, he argued, “it is symbolic that we rebuild.”

“Look, that was a one-of-a-kind tree,” Doocy said. “We don’t know exactly what tree is going to be out there. But there’s going to be another tree pretty quick. … We will have a Christmas tree in front of this building as soon as we possibly can.”

“Don’t worry. Don’t worry,” Earhardt added, reassuring viewers. “Do not be deterred. We will not be. We’re going to rebuild it. We’re going to rebuild it, and we’re going to build it back better.”

Scott echoed that sentiment in her internal memo, saying: “We will not let this deliberate and brazen act of cowardice deter us. We are in the process of rebuilding and installing a new tree as a message that there can be peace, light and joy even during a dark moment like this.”

“We are currently planning on a lighting ceremony for the new tree and will send those details once we have them,” Scott added.