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Three-alarm triple arson claims Pierce County church; suspect in custody

Crews work to put out a the third three-alarm fire at Golgotha Baptist Church in Pierce County. They believe the church will be a total loss. (Image courtesy Central Pierce Fire via Facebook)

Three fires started within an hour of each other along Portland Avenue in the Midland neighborhood, south of Tacoma.

Around midnight, Central Pierce Fire and Rescue was dispatched for a house fire south of 85th and Portland.

As crews fought that fire, some residents came down and told incident command that Golgotha Baptist Church, just to the north of the house fire, was also on fire.

Central Pierce Fire and Rescue Assistant Fire Chief Ed Hrivnak says one of the crews responding to the church fire happened to pass by a car on fire.

They stopped to put that out before continuing on and eventually responders declared all three blazes three-alarm fires.

Hrivnak says it’s been a tough fight. “The real challenge was the church the fire.”

He says when the first companies got on scene at the church fire they did an offensive attack and went interior, trying to find the seed of the fire.

“We always conduct a primary search through any building. We make the assumption that someone is in (a building) until it’s been searched because sometimes there might be night security or someone in there doing night work.

“The problem our crews found is that we put ladder companies up on the roof and this building has been remolded multiple times and they found multiple ceilings in the roof and had difficulty ventilating the structure,” says Hrivnak.

According to Hrivnak, the building was fully charged with smoke and crews had difficulty finding the seed of the fire as conditions got worse.

Fortunately, there was no on inside the church.

Of the 50 personnel involved in putting out the fire, no one was hurt.

Detectives with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office were on scene. Detective Sergeant Jerry Bates says it’s pretty clear all three fires were set by the same person and they’ve taken one man into custody.

“As the church fire was going on, firefighters had seen a person walking away from the scene,” says Bates. “The deputy started driving the side streets and found the guy walking the street. About the time we were contacting him to see what he was up to, a homeowner came out and said the guy had just broken into his house.”

One of the theories sheriff’s detectives are looking at is after possibly setting these arson fires (the suspect) possibly broke into a house to try to find a place to hide.

The 30-year-old suspect has been arrested and booked into jail on three counts of arson and two counts of burglary.

The vacant home is at least a 50-percent loss. The car and the church are believed to be a total loss.

KIRO Radio reached out to the family that runs the Golgotha Baptist Church. They didn’t want to do an interview because they are still very shaken Thursday morning. But they said the church was started by Pastor Pavel Sandu decades ago. His son, also named Pavel Sandu is the current pastor. The 300-member congregation is made up of largely immigrants from Moldova who speak Romanian.

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