GULFPORT -- Thierre Marshay "Tension" Moore faces a first-degree arson charge for an April 4 blaze behind Progressive Missionary Baptist Church on 20th Street near 31st Avenue.
The Gulfport man had been in a vacant house owned by the church before a fire destroyed the house, Fire Chief Mike Beyerstedt said.
Gulfport police arrested Moore, 24, Wednesday at his home on 26- 1/2 Street following investigation by the Gulfport Fire Department's arson unit and the state Fire Marshal's Office.
The church had acquired the house and what to do with it had become an issue for the church, Beyerstedt said.
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"People were breaking in and using it as a place to hang out for a while," he said.
The fire had a head start on firefighters that Monday morning.
"We were receiving calls from quite a distance away," Beyerstedt said.
Fire officials walked onto the front porch of the downtown fire station on 23rd Avenue and could see the smoke.
"Once we got there," he said, "we just wanted to keep it from catching the church on fire."
Beyerstedt said Moore became a person of interest, and an interview revealed Moore had been in the house before the fire began.
"I'm just glad we were able to interact with the Fire Marshal's Office so this case can be brought to a successful conclusion," he said.
Fire Investigator Tim Regan said arson is a crime that affects people's lives, drives up insurance costs and damages "the quality of life in our neighborhoods.
"We take it seriously and work to ensure that those (who start) malicious fires are held responsible."
The pastor of the church could not be reached Wednesday afternoon, but Beyerstedt said the pastor "is extremely appreciative" the fire didn't spread.
Moore was being held at the Harrison County jail on a $100,000 bond.
First-degree arson is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.