SANTA MARIA A 19-year-old man was arrested Friday and is facing charges of arson and hate crimes in connection with a fire at the Winepress Church, 896 Ave. in Santa Maria, authorities said.
Sheriff’s deputies and Santa Barbara County Fire Department personnel responded to the church and saw heavy smoke rising from a structure behind the main church. As authorities approached the burning building, they spotted a man, later identified as Gage Rowdy Tuttle, sitting near the structure, said Lt. Erik Raney, sheriff’s spokesman.
“As deputies spoke with the subject about the fire, they learned that the man actually started the fire,” Lt. Raney said. “During the course of their investigation, deputies determined that the act of starting the fire was directed against the church.”
Mr. Tuttle was booked into Santa Barbara County Jail on suspicion of arson, vandalism and hate crimes. He is being held on $50,000 bail.
The fire was contained to a storage shed before it could spread to the main church or nearby residences, Lt. Raney said.
County fire arson investigators are investigating how the fire was started.