Firefighters say arsonist destroys a Downtown Fresno church

Firefighters believe the man who set fire to a Downtown Fresno church may be a serial arsonist linked to several fires in Southern California.
December 2, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Firefighters believe the man who set fire to a Downtown Fresno church may be a serial arsonist linked to several fires in Southern California.

The building which holds The Power House Institutional Church was erected in 1916. For over a century the faithful prayed there but on Saturday night so many of those memories nearly burned down.

"We had worked on that front and added that front six to seven years ago and after all the work we put into that church to see it destroyed like that," said Pastor Duane McAlister. "People just lost respect basically for God."

Firefighters have arrested 52-year-old Craig Gaut for setting fire to a palm tree. The flames spread to the historic building.

Gaut, a homeless man may be a serial arsonist linked to several fire investigations in Southern California.

"A fire was started maliciously with the intent of destruction to property and that's exactly what happened and in the state of California that has a pretty stiff penalty and you're looking at several years of prison time," said firefighter Koby Johns.

The city has a task force which monitors the homeless population every night. But firefighters say vacant house burns set by transients throughout the city are a growing problem.

"Those houses make great places for people to live in when it gets cold. That's what happen, last year we went on at least 104 different working vacant house fires," added Johns.

Pastor McAlister is grateful the burn wasn't worse.

"I'm glad he got caught and I am glad he didn't get to do something more damaging," said McAlister.


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