A police officer who was on patrol at South Main Street and Pearl Lake Road noticed the fire around 8:50 p.m. Saturday in an old manufacturing mill that has been abandoned for 10 to 15 years.
The fire marshal determined the fire was set and investigators identified Timothy Carlson as a person of interest after receiving two phone calls from two different people reporting that a man was catching his breath at Irving Gas Station, on South Main Street, and smelled like gas and was really red.
An employee told investigators the man acted suspiciously when her friend went into the gas station, said there was a fire at the old factory and started showing her video of it.
Investigators reviewed surveillance video and started showing the clerk an array of 364 photos and she identified Carlson after looking at several dozen, according to police records.
Police knew of Carlson after speaking with him earlier while investigating a homicide in the East Main Street apartment building he was living in, according to police.
Police said they found Carlson Monday at a motel in Naugatuck where he was staying because he didn't want to stay in his apartment after the homicide.
At first, he lied to police about the factory fire, police said, Then he told them he was planning to walk from Waterbury to Naugatuck on New Year's Eve, but went into the building and set a fire, using cardboard, wood and a lighter, to stay warm.
Authorities said the fire started to spread as Carlson slept. When he woke, a wall was on fire and he left.
"I bailed out because there was no way I was going to put the fire out," Carlson said, according to police.
He walked about a mile to the Irving Gas Station and it was there that a clerk smelled smoke on the man and called 911, police said.
Carlson was charged with second-degree criminal trespass, third-degree arson and first-degree reckless endangerment.
He was held on a 250,000 bond and was transported to Waterbury Superior Court for arraignment.
Fire chief David Martin said the accelerate and wind caused the fire, which smoldered until Monday morning, to grow so large.
No one was injured in the fire, but the damage to the building is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Police said the investigation is still active and ongoing and they are looking into whether there is any connection between this one and others over the last five years.