Resident set destructive Hamilton Heights fire then fled to LA: officials

HAMILTON HEIGHTS, Manhattan — A man who lived in an upper Manhattan building where a raging fire displaced more than 100 residents last year has been arrested on charges of setting the blaze.

Jelani Parker, 34, was arrested Thursday in Los Angeles and faces several charges, including felony assault, arson and reckless endangerment, police said.

Prosecutors released full-color surveillance video that investigators said proves that Parker set ablaze the apartment building where he'd lived. The fire quickly spread from Parker's home, leaving more than 100 residents homeless, days before last Thanksgiving.  The flames and their damage left the building a total loss.

The fire broke out on the top floor of the 565 W. 144th St. in Hamilton Heights on Nov. 17. The top two floors of the 100-year-old, six-story brownstone were destroyed.

Witnesses at the time told fire officials that a resident who rarely comes out of his apartment had not been accounted for. At first, officials believed the resident may have died in the blaze.

Investigators determined that the fire was not an accident and the blaze was set on the top floor by one of the residents. That began their search for the missing tenant.

Instead, that resident proved to be Parker, according to investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the NYPD, as well as fire marshals from the FDNY.  

They determined that the fire was not an accident and that the blaze was set on the top floor by one of the residents. That began their search for Parker.

According to police, Parker fled to Los Angeles and was taken into custody following a warrant issued for his arrest. 

"We knew who did it," said a neighbor, who declined to give her name.  "Everybody knew he did it.  Drugs are crazy," she told PIX11 News.

At the height of the fire, more than 250 firefighters responded to the fire. Flames displaced more than 100 residents and injured nine people, including seven firefighters, a police officer and a civilian.