Suspicious Fire Damages Gresham Church

Charles Downing, Gresham (Ore.) Church head deacon, received a jolting phone call at 1:46 a.m. on July 22. Someone had just broken into the church, and the motion-detector sensors were activated.

Downing quickly roused and headed to the church. However, once there he discovered the "burglar" was the fire department responding to the flames devouring the fellowship hall/gymnasium and causing up to $250,000 in damage. Fortunately, no one was injured.

A filled trashcan at the back of the fellowship hall appeared to be the fire's source. Flames crawled up the side of the building and spread into the attic. "The firefighters had to cut a vent hole in the gable end of the building. Then they filled it with water," Downing said. He turned off the alarm, and five minutes later the soggy wallboard and insulation from the ceiling collapsed, barely missing firefighters and destroying the church's new lights, tables, and chairs. "If the fire had gone about another five minutes, we would have lost the entire building," Downing said.

The building is salvageable, according to Nancy Daily, Oregon Conference human resources and risk management director. "The fire department did cut some holes in the ceiling, but a lot of the damage was caused by the water," she explained. "We’re cooperating with the authorities investigating the situation."

Downing’s first thought was that the fire was set purposefully. Police share his suspicions. Two other fires were started that night in Gresham, but this one was the largest.

September 01, 2004 / Oregon Conference