A former parishioner was arrested Thursday morning after he intentionally started a fire outside a National City church, according to the city's police department.
National City Police Department Capt. Alex Hernandez said the blaze was discovered shortly after 3 a.m. Thursday when officers received a call of a burglary alarm on the property. When they arrived, officers were greeted with the front doors set on fire.
“As they approached the area, they noticed what appeared to be an exterior fire at the church directly behind us, located at 2201 East 8th Street,” said Robert Hernandez of the National City Fire Department.
The “medium-sized” fire was described as burning on the outside of the structure near the entrance.
“When the police officers got here, they were quick enough to reach into their vehicle, grab the extinguisher and knock down the main body of the fire, which was located at the front of the church,” Robert Hernandez said.
Soon after the discovery of the fire, the National City Fire Department and San Diego Fire-Rescue Department arrived on scene and extinguished the blaze in its entirety. Smoke damage was done to the inside of the church and the entrance burned to a char.
The church was empty at the time of the fire and no first responders were injured in the firefight.
Surveillance footage captured a man starting the blaze then taking off in a gray pickup truck. Alex Hernandez said church leaders identified that individual as 37-year-old Ace Tomas Rancudo of San Diego. They added that he was a former member of the church.
Later that morning at about 9:30 a.m., authorities found Rancudo driving his truck and conducted a traffic stop. He was taken into custody without incident and now faces a felony charge of arson, according to National City police.
The church that was targeted, the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ) said it was thankful authorities immediately took care of the fire.
"We thank the Lord God that no one was hurt. We would like to thank the law
enforcement officers and the firefighters for their prompt response,” Brother Bob
Pellien of the Iglesia Ni Cristo Public Information Office, US Region, said in a statement.
“It pains us to see our National City chapel attacked. Houses of worship are places for
prayers and worshiping the Lord," the statement continued. "We will see to it that the National City chapel repairs are done. Members and Church officers will redouble our efforts to help communities and remain united with all our brethren around the world in fulfilling our Christian duties amidst troubles like these. The Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church Of Christ) will continue to share God’s message of salvation.”
Neighbors also expressed disappointment in the blaze.
“It’s never okay to like put any place on fire especially at church, you know," said Juvelle Mallari, who lives in the area. "I don’t think it’s right at all.”
Another neighbor, Ruth Canuto, said the fire in her community left her shaken.
“I feel sad," Cantuno said. "Because it’s like yeah there’s no freedom like I would be afraid to; I’d like to go to church but if that happens then I will be afraid you know.”
Anyone who may have information on the case is asked to call the National City Police Department's Investigations Division at (619) 336-4460.