A scorched street sign in the 4600 block of North Lincoln Avenue on Oct. 24, 2023. A scarecrow display was set on fire Oct. 4, 2023, business owners and police said. Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago

LINCOLN SQUARE —A person has been arrested and charged in a series of Halloween decoration fires in Lincoln Square and Roscoe Village, authorities announced Wednesday.

Mario Munoz, 34, has been charged with one felony count of arson and one misdemeanor account of criminal damage to property in the Halloween decoration fires, Chicago Police said.

Munoz was arrested Tuesday near his home in the 3900 block of West Fullerton Avenue and was charged in connection to at least two arson fires: one on Oct. 11 in the 2200 block of West Roscoe Avenue and one on Oct. 12 in the 4100 block of North Maplewood Avenue.

Someone has set at least 10 fires this month in the Lincoln Square and Roscoe Village neighborhoods, apparently targeting Halloween and autumn displays on sidewalks and residential porches as well as street-corner garbage cans, police said. 

The most recent fire was around 2:45 a.m. Saturday in the 2200 block of West Ainslie Street, police said. 

There have been no reported injuries, but some neighbors have been displaced due to the damage from the fires, police and neighbors said. 

It is not clear if Munoz will be charged in the other fires. Munoz is due in court Wednesday and more charges could be forthcoming, Ald. Matt Martin (47th) said in an email to constituents Wednesday.

“My heart goes out to those affected by this individual’s actions and I hope the remainder of our Halloween season can recapture some of the joy that our community has lost in recent weeks,” Martin wrote in the email to neighbors.

Detectives questioned a person of interest Friday, but he was released without charges, police said. Police would not say whether the person being questioned Tuesday was a different individual. Authorities believe one person is responsible for setting these fires. 

Two of the scarecrows participating in the Scarecrow Showdown competition on Lincoln Avenue. Left, Dr. Cornea, a creation of Big City Optical. Right, the pig scarecrow representing Gene’s Sausage Shop & Delicatessen. Credit: Provided/Jonathon Chea and Yolanda Luszcz

While the most recent fires have targeted front-porch decorations on residential streets, the earliest fires involved scarecrow decorations on Lincoln Square’s busy commercial corridor. 

Earlier this month, business owners along Lincoln set up 46 scarecrows on top of straw bales between Lawrence and Sunnyside avenues as part of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce’s Scarecrow Showdown

The scarecrow competition, part of the 36th annual Apple Fest, was set to run through Oct. 13. But after at least one of the decorations was set on fire Oct. 4, the chamber asked business owners to take the decorations down. 

“This unique event was intended to be a fun and engaging way to decorate our business corridor for the autumn season. We immediately took action to remove the scarecrows along Lincoln Avenue to mitigate further fire risks. These numerous acts of arson give our business, chamber and residential community serious cause for concern,” said chamber vice-president Ian Tobin.

This scarecrow display was set on fire around 1:50 a.m. Oct. 4 in the 4600 block of North Lincoln Avenue, police and business owners said. Credit: Provided.

One of the scarecrows set on fire was tied to a streetlamp on Lincoln Avenue near Wilson. Burn marks on the street cleaning sign could still be seen Tuesday afternoon. 

The spot where the scarecrow was scorched is a few storefronts down from gift shop Midwest Nice, 4619 N. Lincoln Ave., said co-owner Kaitlin Fletcher.

Fletcher said she was upset by the abrupt removal of the scarecrows due to the fires. The decorations had been a source of fun for neighbors, who took pictures of them and stopped into her store to ask about them, she said.

“It was a fun event that unfortunately turned a bit sinister. But we hope we’re able to do it or something similar again next year,” Fletcher said. “Maybe people can be kinder and not set them on fire.”

Baker Miller owner Dave Miller didn’t have a scarecrow up as part of the competition, but said he plans to limit his holiday decorations to inside his business at 4655 N. Lincoln Ave. because of the fires.

“I don’t really understand the motivation behind somebody doing something like that,” Miller said. “We usually decorate, but we actually decided not to this year, partially because of those fires. We just didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves, you know?”

Miller said he was thankful for the increased foot traffic during the scarecrow contest while it lasted.

“We’re the Gilmore Girls neighborhood, you know? And decorations are such a big part of that. Creating that experience becomes a draw and helps our businesses,” Miller said. “Not being able to decorate our streets is kind of like sabotaging our own neighborhood, which is really disappointing.” 

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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park reporterrnrnalex@blockclubchi.orgnnLincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park reporterrnrnalex@blockclubchi.org Twitter @avhndz