Douglas community rising from ashes week after church fires

Community vigil in Douglas
Published: May. 30, 2023 at 6:52 AM MST
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DOUGLAS, Ariz. (13 News) - A week after St. Stephen’s Episcopal and the First Presbyterian Church in Douglas were engulfed in flames the Douglas community is coming together to remember the historic churches.

On Monday, May 29, the Douglas community held a vigil at Castro Park, just down the street from the churches.

According to Douglas Mayor Donald Huish, the gathering was a way for the community to start the healing process.

During the vigil, wreaths were laid in front of the First Presbyterian Church as a reminder to the community that even though the buildings may have burned down, the church still stands.

Rev. Peggy Christiansen is the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church.

“The spirit of God is huge,” Christiansen said.

Christiansen said the way the community has come together is remarkable.

“I don’t know what they were thinking when someone thought they were going to burn it out,” Christiansen said.

The community honored the Douglas first responders for their heroic efforts during the vigil. Many said the situation could have been much worse.

Nina Nelson is the pastor at Faith Ministries Church in Douglas, near the burned churces. When she saw the heavy black smoke she immediately wanted to help.

“We felt helpless,” Nelson said. “We stood there, and as firefighters and crews were working there you want to help and you want to be able to do something. It was such a helpless feeling standing there knowing we really couldn’t do anything.”

Nelson is still in shock and fears someone could set fire to her church.

“It was very concerning that someone’s act of hate would affect a church building in such a way,” Nelson said.

Seeing how the community is coming together, however, she is hopeful.

“Honestly, seeing the way they came together and the communities have been reaching out to them, our church community as well,” Nelson said. “If something like that were to happen we know that everyone will be here to help us as well.”

William Tardibuono, the organizer of the vigil, said right after the fires happened he knew he had to do more to protect the historic sites, so he founded the “Church Square Foundation.”

“Basically what the foundation is to help raise funds for the rebuilding of the churches,” Tardibuono said. “As well as to make the square a historic square.”

Tardibuono said although there is a long road ahead. They are determined to make sure this never happens again.

“It’s a part of our history, it’s a part of Douglas,” Tardibuono said. “When something like this happens to anybody the town is always there to help out.”

Huish said since the community is strong he knows rebirth is possible.

“The community will always be supportive,” Huish said. “I think the healing will really start and be accelerated once we see some new bricks going up on these buildings. That will bring joy to our hearts and show that our support as a community hasn’t been in vain.”

Huish said it will take time for the community to fully heal from the destruction but he said the people in Douglas are resilient and can overcome anything.

According to Tardibuono, the “Church Square Foundation” is spearheading fundraisers to raise money to rebuild the churches.

He said if you or know anyone who would like to help either with volunteering or monetary donations, email

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