Bismarck man accused of using Bible, lighter fluid to start Walmart fire
BISMARCK — A Bismarck man allegedly poured lighter fluid on a Bible and set it on fire Friday, Dec. 13, at the north Walmart in Bismarck, hoping the distraction would allow him to steal items from the store, according to a police affidavit.
Police arrested Andrew Ells, 27, about 4 a.m. Monday, Lt. Luke Gardiner said. Police had identified Ells as a suspect and searched for him over the weekend. He turned up at the south Walmart, where employees alerted police. Officers brought him to the police department, where he was arrested.
Ells is seen on north Walmart video from Friday wearing a camouflage balaclava, dark jacket, dark pants with a yellow stripe and a knee brace, the affidavit states. He is seen going behind some boxes in the garden center portion of the store shortly before the fire appears from that area. Police allege Ells told them he had the Bible under his clothing when he went to the store, and that he poured lighter fluid on the Bible, put it on the floor and set it afire with a lighter from the store.
He left the store through an emergency exit. It's unclear if he stole anything or, if so, if the items were recovered. There's no explanation in the affidavit as to why he allegedly chose to use a Bible.
Police on Friday said the 8 a.m. fire occurred under “suspicious circumstances.” Eighteen firefighters responded to the blaze and contained it to the garden center. The building was evacuated and there were no injuries. The building’s sprinkler system activated, which fire department officials say limited smoke and fire damage.
Store officials told police that the loss of merchandise to smoke damage is estimated at $300,000, according to the affidavit. Local Walmart employees referred Tribune questions to corporate officials, who did not immediately respond Monday.
Court documents show Ells is charged with felony arson and endangering by fire or explosion. They do not list an attorney for him.