Walmart fire

A fire department tape line blocks off the entrance to the Walmart Supercenter entrance after a fire was set in the store around 1 a.m. Monday.

Nathan Wicker/The Daily Sentinel

Late-night Walmart shopping may be famous for yielding mild surprises, but an apparent intentionally set fire in the men’s department was downright scary for those caught in the local Supercenter early Monday morning.

“I’m yelling, ‘Hey! Hey! There’s a fire — people were just looking at me sideways there for a second,” said Monica Cook, who’d been in the store long enough to pick up some Great Value crinkle cut fries and Hawaiian rolls when she noticed smoke billowing from the men’s underwear aisle.

“By the time we got over to it, it was already so big — the smoke started to smother me a bit,” she said.

The store staff immediately began yelling at bystanders to back up, and an intercom announcement then ordered everyone to evacuate the store, she said.

“They didn’t have to tell me twice — I dropped the sweet rolls and crinkle cuts and took off for the exit,” she said. “On the way out I warned the people coming in that it wasn’t a good idea.”

Various cellphone photos later posted to social media drew comments such as “Not my department; going on break” — but according to police reports it was store employees who were struggling to put out the blaze with fire extinguishers when first responders arrived just after 1 a.m.

Meanwhile, a man found sitting outside on a bench was questioned — and then arrested — by police.

“During the course of the investigation, officers developed probable cause to believe this individual was the person who intentionally set the fire and placed him into custody on the charge of arson F-2,” Sgt. Brett Ayres said in a statement released Monday morning.

Scott Adam Gilbert, 38, of Strong, Ark., remained jailed Monday with no bond set.

No injuries were reported from the incident.

With smoke damage reported to be extensive, the store will remain closed until further notice, Walmart officials said.

“We are grateful no customers or associates were hurt and appreciate the quick response of local firefighters and law enforcement,” Walmart corporate spokesman Payton McCormick said in a statement on Monday. “We are assessing the damage caused by the fire and will reopen the store as soon as possible.”

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