Monday, December 22, 2014

Church fire remains a mystery

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 8/15/2014

Several agencies have wrapped up their investigation of the Aug. 4 fire that burned much of the historic Bethany Chapel Baptist Church.

While the eight investigators who inspected the scene agreed the fire’s origin began in the southeast corner of the basement, the cause of the fire remains undetermined, Jeff Carner, Ottawa fire chief, said Friday.

Several agencies have wrapped up their investigation of the Aug. 4 fire that burned much of the historic Bethany Chapel Baptist Church.

While the eight investigators who inspected the scene agreed the fire’s origin began in the southeast corner of the basement, the cause of the fire remains undetermined, Jeff Carner, Ottawa fire chief, said Friday.

Investigators from the Ottawa Fire Department, the Kansas State Fire Marshal’s Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, an electrical engineer and a private investigator representing the church’s insurance company all came to the same conclusion, Carner said.

“All investigators have made the same determination about the origin being in the basement area along the south side,” Carner said. “In many cases, the origin of a fire is determined, but due to the lack of physical evidence no cause can be identified.”

More specifically, investigators believe the fire originated in the southeast corner of the basement, Carner said. The area was set up for multiple uses and contained a baptismal, a combination TV/VCR and other items, Carner said.

“Absent a specific determination of a cause nothing can be completely ruled out,” Carner said. “However, there is nothing that would indicate the cause was anything other than accidental in nature.”

The historic church, 131 S. Poplar St., Ottawa, the congregation of which dates back nearly 147 years, was badly damaged when a fire broke out shortly before 5:30 a.m. Aug. 4, according to reports at the scene. The church was unoccupied at the time of the fire, witnesses said.

Total damage to the church reached $818,000, Carner said previously. The building is appraised at $231,320, according to county documents.

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Armogen Walker, said after the fire the church plans to rebuild through donations from the public and through a ministry program called “Hand Me Another Brick.”

Donations may be mailed to Bethany Chapel Hand Me Another Brick at P.O. Box 247, Ottawa, KS 66067.

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