Arson investigation underway after fire erupts at church

SPRING VALLEY, Calif. - Authorities Wednesday were working to identify an arsonist who set a fire at a Catholic church in Casa de Oro.

Santa Sophia’s Pastor Father Jacob Bertrand said there was a lot of damage to the Church’s altar which houses their historic crucifix. The fire also forced them to find a different place to hold a funeral which was scheduled for Wednesday. They also had to break the news to their preschool through eight grade students.

“We reminded them about the importance of praying for enemies," said Bertrand.

Tuesday night, the smoke billowed out of the doorways and brought many parishioners living nearby out to see what was going on.

"When we heard there was a fire broken out, we were extremely worried," said Chris Kanzius.

He and his family are members of the Santa Sophia Catholic Church.

Robin Kanzius heads up a child care program that is conducted in one of the church’s schools.

"Very worried," she said. "It's the focal point of what we do around here so we wanted to make sure everything was OK."

The noninjury fire at Santa Sophia Church at 9800 San Juan St. was reported shortly before 8 p.m. Tuesday, according to San Diego County sheriff's Bomb-Arson Unit Detective Anthony Portillo.

Fire crews from Cal Fire and the San Miguel Fire District arriving on scene saw smoke coming from the church and knocked the fire down within 10 to 15 minutes.

Father Jacob Bertrand said there were two community events occurring in buildings across a parking lot from the church, but that there was no official activity inside the church.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department bomb/arson unit and the ATF are investigating the cause of the fire.

"Investigators determined the fire to be arson," Portillo said.

No injuries were reported.  A damage estimate was pending.

Bertrand said they are blessed that no one was hurt.

"We have some damages and no one was injured, so we're blessed that way," he told 10News. "We just will have to find a way to conduct services in other church buildings on the property."

Church officials said activities that do not involve the sanctuary will continue Wednesday morning. Morning mass will be conducted in the parish hall. They also had to find a new place to hold a funeral which was scheduled for Wednesday.

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