MESA, AZ - The City of Mesa's Christmas tree was destroyed in a fire Wednesday morning that, police say, was intentionally set.
Mesa firefighters and police officers were called to downtown Mesa's "Merry Main Street" around 2:30 a.m. and found the nearly four-story tree fully engulfed in flames.
The lighted tree is the focal point of the city's annual Christmas celebration along Main Street. An ice rink opens nightly to skaters and on weekends there is a shopping market and free visits with Santa Claus.
The tree-lighting ceremony was held on Nov. 24.
Mesa police said 34-year-old Samuel Antone Johnson was found in the area and admitted to setting the tree on fire with matches. Police said Johnson did not provide a motive.
The $40,000 tree was sponsored in 2016 by the Mesa Chamber of Commerce and "more than a dozen private businesses," the city said in a news release said. The Chamber has created a link on its website where people can donate money to replace the tree.
It is not immediately clear how much the Chamber is looking to raise to replace the tree.
Chamber President and CEO Sally Harrison said in a prepared statement that she was "saddened" by the tree's damage.
“Our members that stepped up to sponsor the tree are disappointed but we are excited to take on the challenge to reach out to our community and East Valley friends to raise funds to purchase a new tree as soon as possible.”
The City's Winter Wonderland ice rink is not affected. It will continue to be open daily through Jan. 5, 2018.