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Suspect arrested in National City church fire

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Posted at 6:39 AM, Aug 12, 2021

NATIONAL CITY, Calif. (KGTV) -- A man identified by police as a former parishioner was arrested on suspicion of intentionally starting a fire at a National City church early Thursday morning.

National City Police said 37-year-old Ace Tomas Rancudo was taken into custody several hours after the fire at the Church of Christ (Iglesia Ni Cristo), on 2201 E. 8th Street.

At around 3:20 a.m., National City Police officers patrolling in the area noticed smoke coming from the church and tried to put out the fire with an extinguisher before firefighters arrived. Responding fire crews were able to stop the blaze before it spread further.

National City Fire Department Battalion Chief Robert Hernandez said, “[The officers’] quick action of calling it in and getting emergency services rolling, as well as working on the initial extinguishment, for sure prevented it from migrating from where it is today to the interior portion of the church.”

The blaze damaged the church’s front doors and caused smoke damage inside, but no injuries were reported.

Police said church surveillance cameras showed a person pouring an unknown flammable liquid onto the doors and throwing a lit cigarette onto it.

However, after the fire failed to initially ignite, the person walked over and lit the fire manually, causing flames to engulf the doors, police said the video showed.

The surveillance footage helped police identify Rancudo as the suspect, and his truck was located in the 400 block of Sunnyside Drive in San Diego.

National City Police said: “At about 0924 hours, Rancudo got into his truck and drove away. Detectives conducted a traffic stop on the vehicle and Rancudo was taken into custody without incident. Rancudo was transported to county jail and booked on felony arson charges.”

Though the physical damage was primarily kept to the entrance of the church, morning services had to be relocated to another location because of the fire.

Because the fire was set at a church, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) was assisting National City Police in the investigation.

ABC 10News reached out to church officials for comment, but they declined to speak.