Sunday, December 14, 2008

Wasilla Bible Church Suffers $1 Million Damage In Arson-Suspected Fire; Sarah Palin Sends Condolences

The Wasilla Bible Church, thrust into the national spotlight this summer when it became known that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin attended its services on a recurring basis, has suffered more than $1 million in damage from a Friday evening fire in which arson is now suspected. Full stories from the Mat-Su Frontiersman, the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch, and KTUU Channel 2, with its news video embedded below:

The fire, which was called in about 9:40 P.M. on Friday December 12th, is “definitely suspicious,” said James Steele, chief of the Central Mat-Su Fire Department. A task force comprised of local fire officials, the Wasilla Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, and the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

The blaze was apparently intentionally set outside the rear of the church while at least five people were inside participating in a craft-making project, Steele said, adding that, “All were able to get out safely.”

But although the church is where Governor Palin and her family worships, the governor’s father, Chuck Heath, doesn’t believe the fire was politically motivated. “My gut feeling is, I would be very surprised if there were any connection (to Palin’s candidacy),” he said, adding he is curious about what would motivate someone to set fire to a church. “I’m interested in that, too, but I doubt it was connected.” Heath said he talked with Governor Palin about the fire and said “she’s very upset about it, too. You just wonder why? Why was it set, the motive, the intent? We all want to know that”.

Palin's office issued this statement Saturday: "Gov. Palin stopped by the church this morning, and she told an assistant pastor that she apologizes if the incident is in any way connected to the undeserved negative attention the church has received since she became a 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."

Palin’s mother, Sally Heath, said she was shocked to learn her church had been the target of suspected arson. “Oh my gosh, oh what a shame,” she said. “I just can’t imagine someone’s thinking in starting that fire, and if they know for sure it was arson, oh my gosh, what a tragedy for the church, for the people.”

Church Pastor Larry Kroon, reached at home Saturday morning, said he'd been up all night and was still in a state of disbelief. He said the church was in only its second winter in the building, and he confirmed the $1 million damage estimate. The pastor said he was especially disturbed someone would set the fire while people were inside. He said he had talked to fire officials, but didn't know of any specific clues.

The church is equipped with a fire sprinkler system, Kroon said, but the fire was burning in the walls and took hours to put out. Firefighters had to tear open wall spaces to snuff hot spots, and were on the scene until after 5 A.M. Saturday, Steele said. The church is still usable, as most of the damage was confined to the back corner of the building where four offices and a classroom are located. Aside from water damage, the entire building smells like smoke. As a result, Sunday services will be relocated to Wasilla Middle School. Approximately 1,000 people normally attend a service.

The church has an estimated value of about $4 million to $5 million, according to James Steele. Although he wouldn’t comment on specifics about whether any accelerants were found, investigators will continue to probe the source of the blaze. “Damage inside (the building) is actually to the first and second floors,” Steele said. “I can’t get into some of the specifics, but at least the floor in one area dropped at least two feet, so there was extensive damage to the substructure.”

Firefighters from all Central Mat-Su Fire Department stations responded in sub-zero weather to what was called the largest Mat-Su Valley fire since the June 2007 fire that destroyed Susitna Valley Jr./Sr. High School. Also responding were crews from Meadow Lakes, Big Lake and Houston, with Willow firefighters standing by. As many as 40 firefighters were involved.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that the Anchorage Daily News comment section for the original story was inundated by a bunch of vicious, degenerate trolls who are using the story to vent their spleen at Governor Palin and Alaska. This is inexcusable, and does not fall within the realm of free speech. The Anchorage Daily News comment section has become worse than the Vanguard News Network Forum (and VNN Forum has become a gutter forum during the past two weeks), and this is an intolerable state of affairs for a respected daily newspaper.

ADN should delete all comments associated with this story and disable the comment function for all future Palin-related stories until people show the maturity to elevate the discourse. And since this post, they've taken action. They took down the original story infested with all the troll comments and put up a new story.

1 comment:

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