Fire causes $300,000 worth of damage at Altus church

Sunday, April 28th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ALTUS, Okla. (AP) _ Authorities believe arson is to blame for an early Saturday morning fire that caused $300,000 worth of damage to a 98-year-old church.

The investigation into the fire at Saint Paul's Episcopal Church is ongoing, but Fire Department Captain J.R. Wheeler said early signs point to arson.

Not long before the fire was reported, a police officer saw a light on in Saint Paul's, said Police Chief Mike Patterson.

The officer stopped to make sure every door and window was locked, Patterson said.

A few minutes later, firefighters were called to the blaze.

When they arrived around 2:40 a.m, a wing of the church containing classrooms and a small chapel was engulfed in flames. The area comprises about 50 percent of the church.

``We're confident that arson is the cause,'' Patterson said. ``You don't get multiple rooms that heavily involved that quickly without something to accelerate it.''

He said Saint Paul's and Emmanuel Baptist Church, which sits across the street, also were both vandalized.

The Rev. Haynes W. Dugan II said two silver chalices, along with some other religious items and some videocassette recorders were taken from Saint Paul's.

Nothing was taken from Emmanuel Baptist Church, officials said.

The sanctuary at Saint Paul's was damaged by smoke. Dugan said insurance will cover the fire damage and the property loss.

The 150 members of Saint Paul's planned to have services Sunday at Our Savior Lutheran Church, where Dugan also serves as pastor.

``I was probably more dismayed than disappointed in people,'' Dugan said. ``It's hard to believe anyone could do something like this. It just seems that nothing's sacred anymore.''