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Former parishioner pleads not guilty in National City church arson

Posted at 5:28 PM, Aug 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-16 20:28:26-04

NATIONAL CITY, Calif. (KGTV) — A former parishioner of a National City church accused of intentionally setting a fire at the church pleaded not guilty to charges on Monday.

Ace Tomas Rancudo, 37, entered his plea and faces up to 11 years in state prison if convicted. He's charged with one count of arson of a structure with an allegation of using gasoline in the commission of arson.

National City Police said Rancudo was taken into custody hours after allegedly setting the fire at the Church of Christ (Iglesia Ni Cristo) on E. 8th Street on Aug. 12. Police said around 3:20 a.m. that morning, officers patrolling the area noticed smoke coming from the church. The officers tried to put out the fire with an extinguisher before firefighters arrived to help douse the flames.

RELATED: Suspect arrested in National City church fire

“[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," said National City Fire Department Battalion Chief Robert Hernandez.

Surveillance video showed a suspect pouring liquid onto the doors and then throwing a lit cigarette onto the entrance. The liquid failed to ignite, and the person walked over to light the liquid manually. The video showed the doors instantly become engulfed in flames, police said.

Officers said that the video helped identify Rancudo as a suspect and lead them to his home to arrest him without incident.

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.