Fire damages much of Mormon chapel

Posted: Friday, March 23, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A fire caused extensive damage Thursday to a Mormon chapel, which is adjacent to the faith's Anchorage temple.

The 18,000-square-foot Brayton Chapel, which serves about 1,000 congregants weekly, sits about 200 feet from the temple, which was undamaged.

The fire consumed much of the chapel's roof, and there was water and smoke damage inside the structure, said Anchorage Fire Department spokesman Tom Kempton.

A neighbor smelled smoke about 4 a.m., and called authorities. Flames were seen leaping from the roof as firefighters arrived.

Kempton said it was too dangerous to put firefighters on the roof, so they decided to allow the fire to burn through it to provide ventilation. It burned much of the day, sending black smokes over south Anchorage.

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It was too early for damage estimates, but Kempton said it's likely to be substantial.

The cause of the fire wasn't immediately known, but both Kempton and Melvin Nichols, president of the Anchorage Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said there was no immediate reason to believe it was suspicious.

"There is nothing on the surface at all that indicates that this is anything but an unfortunate accident," Nichols said.

Instead, Nichols said it may have been caused by electrical or mechanical problem with a heating-ventilating-air conditioning unit. "The initial fire was right above that," he said.

This is the second time the Brayton Chapel has been extensively damaged by fire.

A suspected mechanical problem caused the chapel to burn down just before it opened about 30 years ago, Nichols said. Officials decided to rebuild.

Nichols said that is "one of the big questions we're going to have to face right now, reconstruct or build from scratch." Demolition and construction costs could run into the millions, he said.

Congregations, or wards, use the chapel on a regular basis, while the much-larger temple is reserved for more sacred LDS ordinances for the 20,000 church members in Alaska.

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