Cops caught serial arsonist red-handed as he lit dumpster ablaze, prosecutors say

A surveillance image of the arson suspect (left) Carmelito Rolon (right) and the arsonist setting one of the fires on January 3, 2024. (Chicago Police Department, @ChicagoCritter)

CHICAGO — When Judge Maryam Ahmad explained that she would detain a man accused of setting a string of arson fires across the North Side because he could have caused more harm, he had an interesting response: “I didn’t have the chance yet.”

Ahmad made a note of Carmelito Rolon’s utterance in an order jailing him as a public safety threat while he awaits trial on two counts of arson.

Chicago cops arrested Rolon around 9:15 a.m. Saturday after 911 callers reported a man setting fire to dumpsters in the 1200 block of West Ardmore. The officers said they saw Rolon reach into a dumpster with his right hand. Smoke and flames erupted from inside the bin, they alleged.

Rolon, 57, had a blue lighter in his hand as cops took him into custody, officials said.

Prosecutors charged him with setting that fire in the 1400 block of West Norwood and another fire behind Hopleaf, a bar and restaurant at 5154 North Clark, arond 4:30 p.m. on January 3.

At least four more fires were set in the neighborhood on January 3, prompting CPD to issue a community alert about the arson spree earlier this month. While Rolon bears a striking resemblance to an image of the arsonist that police released to the public, he is only charged with setting one of the January 3 fires so far.

A bystander caught video of one fire being set earlier this month. Watch:

Judge Ahmad conceded that Rolon has no criminal history, but setting fires is dangerous.

“When the court indicated that those fires could have caused greater harm, defendant uttered that he didn’t have the chance yet—or words to that effect,” Ahmad’s order stated. She decided that electronic monitoring “cannot follow [Rolon] around the community to ensure he refrains from setting fires.”

In addition to the fire behind Hopleaf, police said the January 3 arsonist set fires in:

  • the 2400 block of West Carmen at 5:34 p.m.
  • the 2100 block of West Foster at 6:06 p.m.
  • the 2000 block of West Berwyn at 6:17 p.m.
  • the 2200 block of West Berwyn at 6:25 p.m.

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About Tim Hecke 330 Articles
Tim Hecke is CWBChicago's managing partner. He started his career at KMOX, the legendary news radio station in St. Louis. From there, he moved on to work at stations in Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York City. Tim went on to build syndicated radio news and content services that served every one of America's 100 largest radio markets. He became CWBChicago's managing partner in 2019. His email address is