Arson suspected in fires at church, Catholic school

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Investigators are trying to determine if two early morning fires at two different churches are connected and if they were arson.

The two fires happened within about an hour of each other. At this point, firefighters are calling both fires suspicious but they have not yet determined exactly how they started.

In the first incident, a car was set on fire in a parking lot at St. Mary's High School on Third Street south of Thomas Road at about 4 a.m. Monday.

The second fire was spotted by a passerby at the Central United Methodist Church on Central Avenue north of McDowell Road at about 5 a.m.

That person called 911 and reported smoke billowing from the church. When fire crews arrived on the scene, they found the door to the chapel on fire. Firefighters were able to quickly douse the flames before the fire could move into the church.

Firefighters believe somebody deliberately set the blaze.

"There's no accidental ignition source here," explained Capt. Ray Wilson of the Phoenix Fire Department. "It's simply a heavy wooden door so somebody had to have ignited a fire outside the door to have caused the door to be on fire."

St. Mary's High School and Central United Methodist Church are less than a mile apart, which is about three minutes driving.

That the two fires happened within an hour of each and both are associated with churches is raising some red flags.

Arson investigators are looking into both fires to determine exactly how they started and if they are related.

No injuries were reported in either incident.