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Employee facing federal arson charges in Woodridge warehouse fire

A disgruntled employee is charged with starting this extra-alarm blaze that leveled a furniture warehouse in Woodridge. | Lemont Fire Protection District

A disgruntled employee faces federal arson charges in connection with a blaze that destroyed a huge, southwest suburban furniture warehouse last week, causing an estimated $70 million in damage.

Ruben Antonio Ochoa Cruz, 20, of Joliet, was charged with arson Friday in the April 21 fire that ravaged The Room Place’s warehouse at 2501 Internationale Pkwy. in Woodridge.

Authorities said Cruz confessed to the crime.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez ordered him held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center pending a detention hearing Wednesday.

“We are deeply disturbed at the news one of our employees has been charged in connection with the fire that destroyed our main distribution center,” Paul Adams, chief executive officer of The Room Place, said Saturday. “We remain focused on rebuilding our warehouse and delivery infrastructure and supporting those employees displaced by the fire.”

Cruz, who worked as a high lift operator in the warehouse, is accused of using a Bic lighter to spark the fire after meeting with his supervisors about missing work.

Cruz, who had been employed at the warehouse for about seven months, told investigators with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives that he started the fire because he was angry with his boss.

“What led up to him setting the fire was a heated argument that he had with his superiors, who were going to dock some of his vacation time because he didn’t show up for work on other days, and he was very upset,” said ATF spokesman Tom Ahern. “He did, in fact, give the details of the argument to our investigators and said that he was upset, so he used a small lighter to light a packaging slip, then dropped it onto a piece of furniture.

“That ignited the fire, and he then backed his forklift out of the aisle and went to a different aisle, and the fire alarm went off shortly after,” Ahern said. “He said, ‘They’re always pushing me,’ and so he lit this fire to relieve some of his stress and tension.”

Approximately 65 employees were working at the furniture distribution center at the time of the “very fast-moving” fire, and it was “fortunate” that all escaped safely, Ahern said.

The 700,000-square-foot warehouse was burned to the ground.

It took firefighters from about 30 departments seven hours to extinguish the fire.

If convicted, Cruz faces five to 20 years in prison.

Contributing: Jordan Owen