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Vancouver church known for inclusiveness suffers from suspicious fire — May 25, 2016

Vancouver church known for inclusiveness suffers from suspicious fire

From KGW.com

VANCOUVER, Wash. — A fire damaged the roof and interior of a church in the Hazel Dell neighborhood Wednesday morning.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was on scene helping the fire marshal figure out what happened, and whether the fire could be arson.

Firefighters were called at about 3 a.m. to the report of flames coming from the First Congressional United Church of Christ, at 1220 NE 68th St.

Photos: Fire damages Hazel Dell church

Crews said they believe the fire had started on the outside of the building and spread inside the church. They say it was a fast-moving fire and the glow of it could be seen from Interstate 5. Crews were afraid the roof would collapse.

“We were inside at one point and time, and feared this building would come down on top of us,” said David Schmitke, with Clark County Fire District 6. “We were very defensive at first, trying to keep it from collapsing.”

No one was hurt.

Jennifer Olson lives nearby the church. She says she woke up around 3 a.m., felt something wasn’t right, and looked out her window. That’s when she saw a huge ball of flames coming from the church.

“The flames were coming out good. They were coming out big time. It’s just kind of weird. You just don’t expect it to happen in your area. Especially the church,” said neighbor Rod McSwan.

Firefighters were able to extinguish the fire within a few hours, but are still watching for hot spots, and are working to save the steeple and cross.

Church members said they are devastated. Church Pastor Jennifer Brownell said the building means a lot to her and to the congregation. It’s a safe place and the church welcomes everyone, she says.

“We’ve always been at the forefront in a lot of ways. Welcoming of gay and lesbian people, and really involved in children’s issues and racial issues this building. This spot has always been a real rallying point for people,” she said.

It was built to look like a dove, and a lot of people think it looks like Noah’s Ark. She says both are fitting symbols as they look to rebuild.

“We like both the dove and Noah’s Ark image. They both are beautiful for us. The dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit and the work of God and the Ark is a symbol of safety and sanctuary,” she said. “Both of those are important to us and we’ll keep those images in mind as we move ahead.”

She says they will worship Sunday, although it might not be inside the damaged sanctuary. She says they might have an impromptu worship service Wednesday, too.

No damage estimates were available.

Note: Martha’s Pantry, the food pantry at the church, will be closed due to smoke damage Thursday and Friday. People seeking food support should contact Clark County Food Bank.

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