Homeless man arrested for allegedly setting fire at Athol church

  • The Our Lady Immaculate Church on School Street was closed to parishioners by the Athol Fire Department Saturday following an early morning fire in the basement. —Athol Daily News/Deborrah Porter

  • The entrances to the Our Lady Immaculate Church on School Street were posted with notices Saturday informing parishioners that the church was closed and weekend Masses would be said at the St. Francis of Assisi Church on Main Street, Athol. —Athol Daily News/Deborrah Porter

Staff Writer
Published: 10/20/2019 9:55:15 PM
Modified: 10/20/2019 9:55:11 PM

ATHOL — It was obvious to investigators that a late night church fire was intentionally set, and they’ve now arrested a man and charged him with arson. 

Trevor J. DeFrancesco, 21, “currently without residence,” was arrested Saturday for allegedly setting the fire at Our Lady Immaculate Church, 192 School St., according to the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

DeFrancesco has been charged with burning a building/church and breaking and entering in the nighttime with the intent to commit a felony, according to the State Fire Marshal. DeFrancesco is being held on $20,000 bail at the Franklin County House of Correction pending arraignment on Monday. DeFrancesco is further charged with being a fugitive from justice on a court warrant.

The fire occurred shortly after midnight — in the early morning Saturday — in the basement of the church. Investigators determined there were “multiple points of origin” for the fire, leading them to believe it was an intentional act. 

According to the State Fire Marshal, the building sustained “moderate” damage, but firefighters were able to control the fire using extinguishers. In addition to smoke and water damage, a water pipe was broken, but ended up helping to control the fire. 

Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera said Sunday that it will be up to the church officials to decide when to reopen the church. He noted that a plumber and electrician will have to be called in.

The fire was investigated jointly by the Athol Police Department, Athol Fire Department and Massachusetts State Police assigned to the State Fire Marshal’s Office. The fire was reported at 12:08 a.m. by the alarm company. The officer on scene reported smoke in the basement with fire showing. The case against DeFrancesco will be prosecuted by the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office. 

The Orange, Phillipston and Templeton fire departments were contacted to report for mutual aid to the scene. The Royalston and Barre fire departments covered the fire station.

Per order of the fire department, Sunday Masses at Our Lady Immaculate were to be held in the St. Francis Church, 101 Main St. Week day Masses and Adoration for this week are canceled. The North Quabbin Catholic Community is comprised of three churches, Our Lady Immaculate, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Peters Church in Petersham.

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268. 

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