California arson suspect sought after spilling, igniting fuel at gas station, officials say

Authorities in California are asking the public for help after a man went inside a gas station on Saturday and purchased a gallon of gas before spilling it near a pump and lighting it on fire.

The Sacramento Metropolitan Fire Department said on Twitter the incident happened at the Unocal 76 gas station on Watt Avenue in Sacramento on Saturday morning.

Surveillance images released by fire officials show the man entering the store wearing sunglasses before returning to the pump outside.

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Marichal Brown, who was working at the cash register at the time, told FOX40 he looked up and saw a "huge fire."

“He spilled gasoline on the floor on purpose, then set the nozzle up and lit a match to it and set it all on fire, as a man just pulled up to pump gas," he said.

A man bought a gallon of gas before spilling it near a pump and lighting it on fire at a gas station in Sacramento, Calif. on Saturday, according to officials.

A man bought a gallon of gas before spilling it near a pump and lighting it on fire at a gas station in Sacramento, Calif. on Saturday, according to officials. (Metro Fire of Sacramento)

Brown told FOX40 the gas station was nearly full at the time and he knew customers were in danger.

“I was afraid that it would activate the pump to explode. Once we got everyone to safety, I ran back in and grabbed the fire extinguisher,” he said.

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Brown was able to put the fire out before fire crews on the scene. The man fled the gas station on foot into the surrounding neighborhood.

Metro Fire Capt. Chris Vestal said his crews are now working to find the man before he puts anyone else at risk.

“We don’t know what the danger is because we don’t know who he is, we don’t know his motive, and we don’t know what his intentions were,” Vestal told FOX40. “We really need help in identifying him and locating him to make sure there’s no danger to the community and to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

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Anyone who is able to identify the man in the photos released by fire officials is urged to contact the Metro Fire arson tip line at 916-859-3775.