Members of a youth group escaped without injury Friday when a suspicious fire broke out in a St. Paul church. Police later arrested an arson suspect.

Authorities took an 18-year-old Maplewood man into custody after the fire at the Faith Alliance Church at 520 Howard St. N. The man is accused of setting the blaze as well as slashing the tires of four vehicles in the church parking lot.

About 18 members of the youth group were in the church basement when they heard a fire alarm go off about 8:30 p.m. They went upstairs and saw flames blocking an exit. Everyone in the building used a side door to get out, said Andy Skoogman, a St. Paul police spokesman.

The St. Paul Fire Department put out the fire, which caused minor damage, Skoogman said.

About 10 minutes after getting out of the church, several people flagged down an officer who was on patrol in the neighborhood. Witnesses told the officer that they had seen the man at the church and watched him drive away, police said.

The suspect was later arrested and booked into the Ramsey County jail; he is expected to face charges of arson and criminal damage to property.

Investigators are not sure about the suspect's motives, but an ex-girlfriend and others known to the suspect may have been members of the youth group.

Tim Harlow • 651-735-1824