Jehovah's Witnesses church gutted by fire - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Jehovah's Witnesses church gutted by fire

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Posted: Friday, February 13, 2009 10:56 am | Updated: 1:24 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Investigators are trying to determine whether arson was the cause of a fire that destroyed a Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall in Mesa on Thursday.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms also is helping out with the investigation.

Fire investigators picked around the 4,000-square-foot building at 645 N. Horne Friday as members visited throughout the day to view the damage.

"It's a disappointment because it makes it difficult to meet," said David Taft, an elder in his congregation.

Deputy chief Mike Dunn, Mesa fire spokesman, said the fire started in at least one of the three trash bins outside the building and spread to the roof.

Dunn said investigators will have to rule out accidental causes such as carelessly discarded cigarettes or ashes, before calling it arson.

He said the fire caused an estimated $500,000 in damage.

For Taft, the immediate problem for the hall leaders is to find a place for their approximately 500 publishers.

A publisher is a baptized member who does evangelistic work.

He said Kingdom Halls throughout the East Valley will likely have to absorb the publishers.

The hall was built in 1971 by its members, just as all Kingdom Halls are built.

Taft was alone in the hall's lobby doing paperwork Thursday when a man and a woman came to the door to tell him there was a fire in the back.

He went around the corner with a fire extinguisher and saw the three residential trash cans in flames.

"All I saw was a large orange ball of flame," Taft said.

He emptied the extinguisher and then grabbed a garden hose and eventually put out the flames.

"I'm thinking I did good and then I looked up and saw the attic was on fire," he said.

On Friday, the remains of the plastic trash cans - two globs of black and a twisted glob of blue - were stuck to the charred ground.

If the fire turns out to be arson, it would be the third church arson fire in the East Valley since November 2007.

The Lehi Stake building of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1430 N. Grand St., burned down on Nov. 19, 2007.

No one has been arrested in connection with that fire.

Chandler police last month arrested a 19-year-old Mesa man on suspicion of burglarizing the Greater Phoenix Chinese Christian Church and then setting the Epiphany Lutheran Church on fire.

No charges have been filed against the man yet, according to court records.

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