The fire started inside a second-story unit at the Lincoln Houses in East Harlem.
Police say the suspect went to the home in violation of a protection order.
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No one else was home at the time.
Five other residents of the building and two police officers suffered minor injuries from the fire.
"It was intense, the whole building. People was (sic) trapped in their apartments because they couldn't make it outside to go anywhere," said one eyewitness.
A cat was also on the windowsill and jumped when it began to catch fire.
The suspect was later identified as 61-year-old Willie Manning. He is charged with burglary, arson, criminal mischief, and reckless endangerment.
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