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Person of interest sought in Walmart fire

Store property declared crime scene

Police on Thursday declared Walmart's property a "crime scene" and said they are looking for a person of interest who was in the area when fire caused significant damage to the store early Sunday morning.

Police and court records show a man who identified himself as Jimmy Guillen, 59, of California, was seen near a fire that broke out behind Walmart on Saturday afternoon. Guillen also was seen on video trying to start plants on fire at Lowe's Home Improvement just 21 minutes before the Sunday morning fire at Walmart that collapsed Walmart's roof.

Guillen is not charged in connection with the fire that forced Walmart's closing indefinitely. He also is not charged in connection with the smaller fire outside Walmart on Saturday afternoon. He is charged with attempt to commit breaking and entering at Lowe's, a misdemeanor. Lowe's is east of Walmart, a few minutes' walk across Prince Street.

"We want to talk to him," Clovis Police Chief Roy Rice said. Rice also made clear that Sunday's fire is still being investigated and officials are not sure how it started.

While police would not say whether they believe the fire was set intentionally, on Thursday afternoon they issued a news release stating the Walmart property "has been secured as a crime scene" and asking the curious to stay away.

"Only authorized persons, investigators and workers associated with the cleaning and restoration of the Walmart, are allowed within the property. Unauthorized entry to this property may result in an immediate arrest for criminal trespass," the news release stated.

As for Guillen, police records show they came in contact with him at 4:13 p.m. on Saturday after a small grass fire, quickly extinguished, was located behind Walmart. He "was found near the area of the fire acting suspicious," according to a timeline of events police provided The News on Thursday.

"Jimmy was found to have a red signal flare, and a butane canister along with a lighter on his person."

A police report shows Guillen gave police a red signal flare, a butane or propane canister and a lighter before being released.

Police next encountered Guillen at 6:47 a.m. Sunday, about three hours after the fire began that significantly damaged Walmart's building. Guillen was brought in for questioning, according to the timeline, but asked for a lawyer. "We didn't have enough to hold him. Cause of the Walmart Fire was unknown at the time," the police timeline states.

Then at 9:12 a.m. Sunday, a Lowe's Home Improvement representative contacted police to report they'd seen video of a man "trying to start plants (on) fire in front of the store." That incident occurred at 3:15 a.m. Sunday, according to the Lowe's video, just 21 minutes before the Walmart store fire.

Police were able to identify Guillen from the Lowe's video and a warrant was issued for his arrest on the alleged breaking and entering.

Police said they've been unable to locate Guillen since they released him sometime after 7 a.m. Sunday.

"Obviously he was a person of interest from the get-go when we scooped him up at Prince," Clovis Deputy Police Chief Trevor Thron said Thursday.

Court records show Guillen, a white male, is 5-foot-9 inches tall and weighs 200 pounds.

Lowes provided police with a photo of him shopping in the store sometime Saturday. The arrest affidavit reports, "Jimmy did not pay for the items in the cart he was using. The items consisted of a torch, lighter fluid and a butane canister."

The arrest affidavit did not indicate when the video of Guillen shopping at Lowes was recorded, but Thron said it was taken sometime after the small fire behind Walmart on Saturday afternoon.

Clovis police on Thursday referred questions about the cause of the fire to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agency, which did not immediately respond.

Walmart officials said Thursday they had no new information to report.

Timeline of events

(Provided by Clovis Police Department)

Sept. 2

4:13 p.m.: Small grass fire was located behind Walmart. Jimmy Guillen was found near the area of the fire acting suspicious. Jimmy was found to have a red signal flare, and a butane canister along with a lighter on his person.

Sept. 3

3:40 a.m.: Walmart Fire

6:47 a.m.: Jimmy Guillen was located near Llano and Prince. Brought into the PD for an interview reference the Walmart Fire and he asked for a lawyer. We didn't have enough to hold him. Cause of the Walmart Fire was unknown at the time.

9:12 a.m.: Lowes Home Improvement called the PD to report a male subject seen on video at 0315 hours trying to start plants of fire in front of the store. Male was also seen on video attempting to break into Lowes by striking the front door with a brick. Male subject was identified in the video as Jimmy Guillen. A warrant was issued for him.

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