Lake Wales Fire Department managed the critical situation at the mall, when shoppers triggered the alarms after they saw smoke coming out of the corridor next to the entrance of the mall nearby the J C Penney store. A drop ceiling was the only thing damaged, law enforcement said.
Police officials say they are not calling the incident an act of terrorism, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been notified.
Lake Wales firefighters responded to the mall around 5:30 p.m. WFLA reported that the flares were inside PVC pipes and wrapped in tape. The mall was evacuated.
"It appears two items, believed to be marine flares, were ignited in a mall hallway, creating a large amount of smoke, and a backpack was located at the scene", she wrote.
"This is a family-oriented mall".
Lake Wales Police and the Sheriff have set up a perimeter and are still searching for the suspect.
According to witnesses, police described him as middle-aged, "heavy/stocky build wearing a grey shirt and grey hat". "People here shopping, just enjoying a Sunday evening with their family and literally - boom".
Another suspicious device found near the movie theater was later determined to be an "old box" and not a safety threat, Schulze said. He is now considered a "person of interest" in this case.
Fortunately, no one was injured by the explosions or the fire, but authorities were unable to quickly detain the person (or persons) responsible for the detonations.