Like so many curious onlookers, Ann K. Rosten was watching intently as flames engulfed an Elmwood Avenue building early Wednesday morning.
But fire officials say she was not your average spectator.
Rosten is a "firebug," they say, and she is accused of setting two other fires -- at 229 Allen St. and 307 North St. -- earlier that morning. No injuries were reported in either fire.
Fire officials say Rosten was gazing at the two-alarm inferno at 656 Elmwood Ave., at West Ferry Street, when she was arrested by Buffalo police at 2:50 a.m. Investigators believe she did not ignite that Elmwood Avenue fire but was just there to watch.
"It's just weird," said Buffalo Senior Fire Investigator Edwin Ortiz, who led the investigation along with Investigator George Arthur. "She starts two fires and all of a sudden she goes to a third fire . . . The police did a great job of catching her."
Rosten, a 54-year-old Best Street resident, has been charged with two counts each of arson, reckless endangerment and criminal mischief.
The first fire erupted in the women's restroom at Mulligan's Brick Bar at 229 Allen St. about 12:46 a.m. Fire marshals say Rosten ignited two rolls of toilet paper inside a stall and walked out.
When two women entered the bathroom and smelled smoke, they alerted authorities. About 20 patrons evacuated the building, and firefighters quickly contained the fire, which caused about $5,000 damage to the building. About one hour later, Rosten walked into a three-story apartment building at 307 North St., where she used to live, officials reported.
Rosten allegedly ignited several wooden pallets in the third floor hallway, causing a blaze that engulfed the hallway and spread into the walls.
About 120 residents who live at 307 North and 305 North, an adjacent building, were evacuated. Damage was estimated by officials at $50,000 to the building and $10,000 to the contents.
Witnesses at both fire scenes told investigators that the arsonist was a white woman, 50- to 60-years-old, with gray hair and a heavy build. Police across the city were alerted to be on the lookout for a woman fitting that description.
Just a few hours later, Central District Officers Stephen Schulz and Allen Gallagher were at the scene of the Elmwood fire when they noticed a woman who fit that description and arrested Rosten.