Hacienda Heights Catholic church fire declared arson

Members of St. John Vianney Catholic Church's in Hacienda Heights celebrated Mass in a parish hall today, while arson investigators work to find whoever set the church ablaze, gutting it and causing an estimated $8 million damage.

Firefighters responding to a 12:04 a.m Saturday morning. report of a fire at 1345 Turnbull Canyon road found the church engulfed in flames.

A priest in the rectory was treated for smoke inhalation but not seriously injured, according to county firefighters. What he, or another priest and a seminarian who were in rectory, may have heard or seen was not disclosed, but sheriff's deputies disclosed late Saturday that the fire was arson.

The fire raged for about 2 1/2 hours before more than 100 firefighters were able to "surround and drown" it. The church was gutted, and a pipe organ worth several million dollars was destroyed by the time fire was declared out at 2:34 a.m. Some religious icons and ceremonial pieces reportedly were saved.

"The extensive structure fire... has been confirmed as an act of arson," Capt. Mike Parker of the Sheriff's Headquarters Bureau said. "We are actively investigating to identify the suspect responsible."

Beyond that, investigators were tight-lipped about how the fire was set or a possible motive. Some published reports said witnesses heard an explosion.

Detectives with the sheriff's Arson/Explosives Detail were handling the investigation.

Church members said they planned to celebrate Mass today in the O'Callaghan Center parish hall that was not damaged.

Anyone with more information was urged to call sheriff's arson investigators at (323) 881-7500.

Tips can be left anonymously by texting TIPLA, plus the information, to 274637, or via the Crime Stoppers website at crimestoppers.org