Marshal calls fire at church suspicious

Blaze at valley church the week before not related

Posted: Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Investigators consider the fire that destroyed Holy Trinity Episcopal Church suspicious in nature, Juneau Fire Marshal Rich Etheridge said Monday.

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The church's pastor says he's not surprised, though he does not think the 110-year-old landmark itself was a target of arson.

"I have never been anywhere where the reputation of an institution was so universally revered," the Rev. George Silides said Monday. The church included McPhetres Hall, which was widely used by the public.

A statement issued by Etheridge on Monday said the investigation into the March 12 fire near Third and Gold streets determined the blaze to be suspicious. He also said investigators have identified people they need to interview in the case.

Capital City Fire and Rescue Chief Eric Mohrmann on Monday said he couldn't elaborate on the "suspicious origin." He also would not say whether the people officials seek are suspects.

"We aren't in a position right at this moment to release any information," he said.

He understands the interest of the community, but wants to leave it to his investigators to complete their investigation, he said.

The department is not releasing details of the origin of the fire, which also destroyed a nearby home, according to Mohrmann and Etheridge.

Witnesses said on the day of the fire that they saw it start near that adjacent house and a boat, which also burned. Both were owned by Shelby Edwards.

It was the second straight Sunday morning that Capital City crews responded to a fire at a church. On March 5, firefighters extinguished a blaze at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, 4212 Mendenhall Loop Road.

"That was clearly an electrical fire," Mohrmann said, labeling the two fires significantly different.

And unlike the March 5 fire, the destruction of property a week later was total.

Silides said he doesn't expect to find details of the fire's origin from the fire department or insurance investigators for several weeks. From the outset, though, he said, nothing in the church seemed to have caused the fire. There were no candles burning, he said. Everything investigators discussed as a possible fire cause from the building was ruled out, he added.

He also heard witness reports that the fire started away from the church.

Silides said he will leave it to investigators to do their job to find out how it started.

"My job is to get the ministry back up and running," he said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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