Presbyterian Church arson update: break-in preceded blaze

LONELY LABOR Dan Bixler cleans up the church interior. The damage was mostly to the exterior, with inside areas largely untouched. KLH | Union

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – Arcata’s Presbyterian Church was the latest place to be secured with crime scene tape following a Saturday night arson which left one man severely burned about the head and hands.

The unidentified man was airlifted to the UC Davis Firefighters Burn Institute Regional Burn Center for treatment.

The day's sermon, delivered at the Unitarian Fellowship in Bayside. KLH | Union

The 1917-vintage church’s G Street entrance was heavily burned, but the damage appeared to have been largely contained to the outside area. “The doors did their job,” said Dan Bixler, a church deacon who was busy shoveling up scorched debris Sunday morning.

According to an Arcata Police press release, officers were called to assist the Arcata Fire Department with a structure fire at the church just after 9 p.m. There they located the 28-year-old male victim. The church entrance area is frequently used by homeless individuals for shelter at night.

The storage room off the entrance which the suspect passed through after breaking in upstairs. KLH | Union

APD said that the man had been sleeping on the steps of the church when the suspect ignited a flammable substance in the area, setting the man on fire. The victim made his way to the street, where people in the area helped put out the flames engulfing him.

The suspect was seen fleeing the church eastbound on 11th Street. He is described as a possible Hispanic male with short brown hair. He was last seen wearing a gray sweatshirt and gray jeans.

The victim was transported to the Mad River Hospital, where he was initially listed in serious but stable condition. He was flown to the burn center Sunday morning.

Rev. Daniel Link said the church’s Sunday services were held at the Humboldt Unitarian Universalist fellowship in Bayside. He stuck to his previously scheduled sermon, titled “Lessons in Forgiveness.”

UPDATE/CORRECTION: According to a church member, Sunday services were held at Bayside Community Presbyterian Church, with the sermon delivered by Elder Dave Goodman.

“It was perfect, don’t you think?” Link said.

He disclosed that the arsonist had apparently broken into the church before setting the fire. The invidual had broken through a door to the second floor just up from the main entrance, but was stopped by three interior doors.

The suspect then went around back, Link said, broke a window and went into the church’s gym, where he grabbed a fire extinguisher. This was taken downstairs, where another door to a room where Sunday School supplies are stored was broken through.

The church does have fire insurance, according to Link.

The suspect apparently went out that door, exiting to the entrance area, which he then set ablaze.

Link said parishioners were interested in helping the burn victim, and are hoping to get more information on his identity and condition.

Any witnesses to the incident are encouraged to contact APD at (707) 822-2428.

Church deacon Dan Bixler cleans the damaged entrance. Entrances have since been boarded up. KLH | Union







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