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Fire at Salpointe Catholic ruled arson, man arrested

A Tucson man faces multiple felony charges — including arson — for allegedly breaking into Salpointe Catholic High School earlier this month and setting a fire, officials said Sunday.

Forrest Harris, 26, was arrested following an investigation into the conflagration, which began in the attic space above a classroom in the school's English wing and caused "significant damage." Tucson firefighters responded and used two crews to quell the blaze, however, flames seriously damaged one building, and smoke and water damaged another.

Officials with Salpointe said classes will begin on August 8 despite the "devastating and unexpected setback."

Around 8:13 p.m., on July 17, Tucson Fire Department crews responded to the high school in Midtown Tucson where they found "heavy smoke and flames" from a wing of classrooms near the southeast corner of the campus. As the fire tore through the building, firefighters called for a second alarm and fought it "defensively," TFD officials said.

From Cherry Avenue and one of the school's parking lots, two ladder trucks sprayed the building's roof and sides with water. As flames smoldered through the building firefighters were forced to smash through roof tiles.

The fire was under control within an hour, TFD officials said.

Following the fire, investigators with Tucson Police and the Tucson Fire Department collected evidence at the scene, and "through collaborative efforts" were able to identify Harris as a "suspect in the arson," said Sgt. Richard Gradillas, a TPD spokesman.

On Saturday, they found Harris near North Country Club and East Grant roads, Gradillas said. After investigators interviewed Harris, he was arrested and booked into the Pima County Jail.

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Harris faces charges for arson, burglary and criminal damage, Gradillas said.

In a statement released after the fire, Jennifer Harris, the high school's director of advancement, praised Tucson firefighters and  police for responding "quickly and valiantly."

"Smoke and water damage are also present throughout the 300 and 400 wings," she said. "Fire safety assessment personnel and building safety experts are on site," she said, adding the school will not open the campus "until it is deemed safe to do so."

She added the school hopes to start school on August 8 as originally scheduled, adding we "have no plans to switch to remote learning."

"This is a devastating and unexpected setback," she said. "However, we will come together as a Salpointe community and we will meet this challenge. Our students’ education and wellness are our top priorities and we look forward to another successful year at Salpointe."

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Firefighters work to knock down a fire at Salpointe Catholic High School on July 17, 2022.