Vincent V. Harmon, 20, was arrested Friday and charged with first-degree arson, malicious burning, reckless endangerment and malicious destruction of property. If found guilty of arson, Harmon could spend up to 30 years in prison and owe a $50,000 fine.
The Pocomoke City Supercenter is closed until further notice, said Walmart spokeswoman Ashley Hardie. The store is the only full-service supermarket in southern Worcester County.
"We are working with the Pocomoke City Fire Department and the Worcester County Health Department. We will clean the store, make sure it is safe for our customers and associates and reopen when it is safe to do so," Hardie said. "We are still assessing the damage."
Just before 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Harmon allegedly set fire to bags of potato chips and left the store, according to Deputy Fire Marshal Rob Korb. Walmart employees doused the flames with nine fire extinguishers. Four fire departments responded to the scene to put out the blaze.
"Potato chips are greasy, and grease fires are hard to get under control," Korb said. "The problem is the powder (from the extinguishers) has spread throughout the store."
Much of the boxed food and fresh produce in the supermarket will have to be disposed of, said Ed Potetz, director of Environmental Health for the Worcester County Health Department, since it has been contaminated by fire extinguisher dust. The substance, which contains ammonium phosphates and clay dust, presents a low health hazard but can be an irritant. Canned and jarred food could be salvaged but would need to be cleaned before returning to the sales floor. Frozen food should be relatively unaffected, Potetz said.
"They are going to be sealing the section off where the contaminant landed," he said. "There is no way there could be any leaking into the other side of the sales floor."
However, some items, especially baby clothes and toys located near the food section, will likely be destroyed.
"They are doing what they can to be ultrasafe," Potetz said. "They are going to be more than cautious. The baby stuff, they are going to be discarding -- they aren't going to be taking any chances. You never know how something is going to react with a child."
The Pocomoke City Walmart Supercenter was renovated last fall, its second facelift since opening in 1997.