ATF Investigating Possible Arson Fire at Church Next to Historic San Luis Rey Mission


Investigators believe arson may have been the cause of a fire that started in the storage room of a church adjacent to the historic Mission San Luis Rey Tuesday morning.

Crews with the Oceanside Fire Department were dispatched to the Serra Center at San Luis Rey Parish, located dozens of feet away from the all-white Mission San Luis Rey, at about 4:40 a.m.

Firefighters could smell strong smoke and upgraded the incident to a commercial fire. Crews with Camp Pendleton and Vista fire departments were called for backup.

The teams worked together to keep the fire contained to a storage room, which is next to the main room where masses are held. Within 15 minutes, the fire was knocked down.

The fire could have caused up to $1.75 million worth of damage if it wasn't for the Serra Center's smoke detectors, Oceanside Fire Chief David Parsons said. Instead, the current estimate of damage is $17,000.

A fire investigator said evidence points to the fire being intentionally set. Because of the potential for arson and because the fire was started at a place of worship, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) was called to assist in the investigation.

The investigation is ongoing. Parsons did not say whether or not they were searching for a suspect.

The Serra Center, part of the San Luis Rey Parish, is not associated with the San Luis Rey Mission but sits on the same property.

No other information was available.

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