.Suspect Arrested for Watsonville Church Fire

Blaze causes nearly $100K in damage to the historic St. Patrick’s Catholic Parrish

Police have arrested a man suspected of starting a fire in St. Patrick’s Catholic Parish in Watsonville that caused $100,000 in damage.

Alberto Melgoza, 36, is also suspected of setting a fire at Ave Maria Memorial Chapel in June, Watsonville Police Department spokeswoman Michelle Pulido said.

Melgoza was arrested at about 9:30am near Center Street, about 12 hours after the fire broke out at the church, Pulido said.

Fire crews and several nearby fire agencies responded to the church shortly after 10pm on Monday. 

Video surveillance footage helped investigators identify and arrest Melgoza.

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He was booked into the Santa Cruz County Jail on felony arson charges, including vandalizing a place of worship. He was being held Tuesday without bail, jail records showed.

Deacon David Ford, Vice Chancellor of the Diocese of Monterey, said that Sunday mass would be held in the gymnasium of Moreland Notre Dame School across the street.

Church member Monica Fernandez said the news of the fire saddened her, mainly when she saw the damage for herself.

“I had to explain to my 8- and 9-year-old boys that there was a fire inside the Parish, and we would not be able to attend mass for some time,” she said. “In our heart, we hoped that the parish would be up and running again. My 8-year-old is enrolled in the second year catechism. News like this is devastating to children and adults of the community.”

Pastor Jason Simas said on the church’s social media page that the fire occurred in the section of the wall between the piano and the organ. 

The blaze damaged two stations of the cross, one stained glass window, the organ console and potentially the digital piano.

Additionally, there was water damage from efforts to quell the flames, requiring a restoration company to remove the carpet.

A leaking sprinkler will also have to be repaired, as will a hole in the roof made by firefighters to get water into the blaze.

Simas predicts it will be at least two weeks before services can be held, with a complete restoration possibly taking months.

Daily services will be held in the Serra Center, and weekend services will be held in the gym, Simas said.

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