ANCHORAGE - Gov. Sarah Palin's home church has been badly damaged in an arson fire.
Damages to the Wasilla Bible Church were estimated at $1 million, authorities said Saturday. No one was injured in the fire, which was intentionally set while people, including two children, were inside.
"This fire is definitely suspicious," said Central Mat-Su Fire Chief James Steele.
The Rev. Larry Kroon declined to say if the Friday night blaze was politically based or directed at Palin, the failed Republican vice presidential candidate. He also declined to say whether the church has received any recent threats.
"There are so many variables," he said. "I don't want to comment in that direction."
Palin stopped by the church Saturday morning. Her spokesman, Bill McAllister, said in a statement that Palin told an assistant pastor she apologizes if the fire was connected to the "undeserved negative attention" the church has received since she became the vice presidential candidate on Aug. 29.
"Whatever the motives of the arsonist, the governor has faith in the scriptural passage that what was intended for evil will in some way be used for good," McAllister said.
The thousand-member evangelical church, which stresses the inerrancy of Scripture, was the subject of intense scrutiny after Palin was named John McCain's running mate. Early in Palin's campaign, the church was criticized for promoting in a Sunday bulletin a Focus on the Family "Love Won Out Conference" in Anchorage. The conferences promise to "help men and women dissatisfied with living homosexually understand that same-sex attractions can be overcome."
The fire was set at the entrance of the church and worked its way in while a small group of women were working on crafts, Steele said. Two children also were in attendance, he said. The group was alerted to the blaze by a fire alarm.
The main worship area sustained some water damage, Steele said.
Kroon said he was called about 9:30 p.m. and by the time he got to the church, smoke was pouring out of the building. Sprinklers kept the fire from spreading beyond offices and classrooms. But Steele said firefighters had to break through some of the interior to reach flames trapped inside walls.
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