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Schwarzenegger declares state of emergency after mall fire

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Arson suspect's mom: 'We are in shock'
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declares state of emergency
  • Mother says her son sought mental health help
  • Firefighters are hampered in battling a fire set at a northern California mall
  • The man set a fire, then barricaded himself in the store before his arrest, police said

(CNN) -- The closing of a mall heavily damaged by fire will cause a heavy economic toll, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Friday in declaring a state of emergency.

The governor's order suspends a one-week waiting period for store employees who will seek unemployment benefits in Placer County. It also expedites the removal of hazardous and nonhazardous debris so that rebuilding can begin.

Investigators have begun damage assessments at the mall in Roseville near Sacramento, where a man barricaded himself inside a video game store before setting it on fire, authorities said.

"The fire department is monitoring the scene in case of possible flare-ups or hot spots," said Sgt. Jason Bosworth of the Roseville Police Department.

Roseville police identified the suspect as Alexander C. Piggee, 23, who is being held in the Placer County Jail, Bosworth said. An arson investigation has been opened.

"We're in shock. We just cannot believe that my son did that," Mary Carter told CNN affiliate KCRA. She said her son sought "mental health" help, but that police "didn't help him."

Piggee entered the Westfield Galleria at Roseville "speaking incoherently" late Thursday morning, police said. He claimed he had a handgun and then set the fire, which has lasted for hours.

Police and fire crews converged on the scene, and several police officers led him out in handcuffs shortly after 1 p.m.

Authorities said they believe he also may have been involved in an arson Wednesday evening, fire officials told CNN affiliate KXTV.

Law enforcement officers were checking for a backpack that authorities feared might contain an explosive device. They were getting close to determining the bag's contents when the nearby fire got too big, forcing them to abandon their operation, CNN affiliate KMAX reported.

For that reason firefighters, too, were not allowed in the building. Instead, they fought the flames "on the defensive," Dennis Mathisen of the Roseville Fire Department told CNN.

CNN's Samuel Gardner and Ed Payne contributed to this report.