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Auke Bay church hit by arsonist

Pulpit set on fire, investigation ongoing

Posted: April 9, 2014 - 12:04am
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Harvey Knuth, administrator for the Chapel by the Lake Presbyterian Church, looks at ashes where the burned pulpit stood on Tuesday. The fire looks to be the work of an arsonist.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Harvey Knuth, administrator for the Chapel by the Lake Presbyterian Church, looks at ashes where the burned pulpit stood on Tuesday. The fire looks to be the work of an arsonist.

Someone entered Auke Bay’s Chapel by the Lake Presbyterian Church and lit its pulpit on fire in an incident police and the fire department are investigating as “suspicious,” Fire Marshal Dan Jager said.

Capital City Fire and Rescue was alerted that the church was filled with smoke at about 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jager said. 

The church’s security company noticed the smoke and called the fire department, Chapel by the Lake associate pastor Matt Royston said, and security guards put out the fire before CCFR arrived.

“The fire department was dispatched to the chapel,” Jager said. “There was a fire before but it was already extinguished. There was smoke but no active fire.”

The blaze was put out before much damage was done, Royston said. The pulpit, which was set on fire, is “pretty damaged,” he said. The pulpit is the original built for the chapel in the 1970s, Royston said. He said he’s not sure if the church will purchase a new one or restore the damaged one.

“It’s movable, so we put it outside because it was smoking,” Royston said. “It’s disappointing, but at the same time it could have been a lot worse. There are things worse than a small fire in the sanctuary.”

Damages were estimated at $3,000 to $5,000, Jager said.

When they arrived at the church early Tuesday morning, firefighters used fans to ventilate the chapel. As far as anyone knows, Jager said, nobody was injured in the fire.

Royston said he was unsure how the person entered the church — whether they broke in or knew the passcode. He said because the church wants to remain accessible to the community, staff is hesitant to go into lockdown.

“Our administrators are reacting to try to secure the place, but not wanting to shut everybody out,” Royston said. “We don’t want to overreact and create a situation where people don’t want to be here.”

CCFR and the Juneau Police Department are investigating the incident together, Jager said. JPD spokesman Lt. David Campbell said it’s early in the investigation and suspects have not yet been identified.

Anyone with information can call the fire department at 586-5322 or the police department at 586-0600.

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