Eyismery Areana Ocanto, 21, of North Bergen was arrested on Feb. 28 on one count of aggravated arson regarding the fire at 604 10th St., a three-family house that left 18 people homeless.
Union City Police Chief Norman Bareis announced the arrest at a press conference in Union City City Hall on March 1.
The 10th Street fire was one of a string of four-alarm fires that broke out before four a.m. on Dec. 2 in Union City.
The fires started at 1016 Summit Ave. and spread to five two-story apartment buildings and first level businesses, 604 10th St. and 420 13th St., both residential properties.
Bareis said that, based on their investigation so far, the department has no reason to believe that the fires were set by one serial arsonist in the city.
Bareis said that he thinks Ocanto used papers to ignite a number of garbage cans that were standing against the building. The proximity of the garbage cans to the building made it easy for the building to catch on fire.
Bareis said that he thinks that Ocanto committed a random act. Ocanto, who Bareis said is still a suspect for the other Dec. 2 fires, is being held on $60,000 bond bail in Hudson County Jail in Kearny.
"We are still fully investigating each and every fire," said Lt. Richard Molinary, who headed the investigation. Bareis said that they have allocated 25 to 30 percent of their police force on these investigations.
However, Ocanto is not a suspect in the Jan. 1 fire that took place at 910 Summit Ave. because at the time, she was being held in Weehawken for a separate arson offense.
Bareis said that, because this is Ocanto's second arson arrest, she may face up 20 years in prison.
Playing with fire
Union City Police were led to Ocanto through a tip from the Weehawken Police Department. Soon after the Dec. 2 fires, Ocanto was arrested in relation to a car fire set in Weehawken.
According to Weehawken Deputy Chief Robert DelPriore, the car, now charred, was traced to Ocanto's mother by using the VIN numbers still readable on the vehicle.
DelPriore said that eyewitnesses to the fire were able to take down the license plate number of her getaway car. The car was traced to an area close to the site of the Union City fire.
Weehawken Police arrested Ocanto with two accomplices on the car fire, Raymond Hayde, 38, and his brother Damien Smarsch, 23, of Union City. Hayde and Smarsch were both released after posting $25,000 each in bail. Ocanto was held on $75,000 until mid-January.
Bareis said that they are still investigating as to whether Ocanto acted alone on the 10th Street fire.
"Arson is a very difficult crime to resolve," said Bareis.