Chief: Athol church arson caused by ignited paper

  • A 21-year-old homeless man was arrested early Saturday morning for intentionally starting two fires in the basement of Our Lady Immaculate Church at 192 School St. in Athol shortly after midnight. STAFF PHOTO/DEBORRAH PORTER

  • The entrances to Our Lady Immaculate Church in Athol were posted with signs Sunday morning informing parishioners that weekend Mass would be celebrated at St. Francis of Assisi Church. STAFF PHOTO/DEBORRAH PORTER

Staff Writer
Published: 10/21/2019 10:34:46 PM

ATHOL — The man police say intentionally set two fires inside Our Lady Immaculate Church shortly after midnight Saturday used paper to start the blazes in the basement, Athol Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera said Monday.

One fire was started on a table and another burned in a cabinet until firefighters eliminated the flames with hoses and fire extinguishers, Guarnera said.

Trevor J. DeFrancesco, a 21-year-old homeless man, was arrested in the area Saturday for allegedly setting the fires at 192 School St., according to the State Fire Marshal’s Office. He was charged with burning a building and breaking and entering in the nighttime with the intent to commit a felony, and held on $20,000 bail at the Franklin County Jail and House of Correction pending arraignment Monday.

Guarnera said smoke that billowed into the main section of the church caused extensive damage. The Fitchburg Fire Department was called to ventilate the building with a special truck that contains a powerful fan.

Guarnera said an alarm shortly after midnight alerted his department to the fire and its smoke was spotted by an on-duty Athol Police officer, who confirmed the blaze for the fire crew. Guarnera previously said a water pipe broke, helping to control the fire.

Signs were posted on Our Lady Immaculate’s doors over the weekend to inform parishioners that Sunday Mass would be celebrated at St. Francis of Assisi Church at 101 Main St. in Athol.

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 case against DeFrancesco will be prosecuted by the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office.

Reach Domenic Poli at: or
413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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