Church fire on reservation under investigation
Submitted by Howard Owens on July 19, 2010 - 9:34am
(Update II at 2:19 p.m.)
A late night fire at a Presbyterian Church on the Tonawanda Indian Reservation may have been deliberately set, according to Tim Yaeger, emergency management coordinator for Genesee County.
The fire is under investigation by the Genesee County Sheriff's Office, the Alabama Fire Department and Yaeger's office.
Chief Deputy Jerome Brewster said the fire was spotted by a person driving by the church who saw an orange glow through the windows. He turned around, confirmed the fire and called dispatch at 11:05 p.m..
"It's on the further recesses of the reservation," Brewster said. "I'm surprised somebody was out driving by that church that late. Not a lot of people drive through there at 11 o'clock at night. It's very remote."
Quick action by three Alabama Fire chiefs who arrived on scene at the same time kept the fire from causing more serious damage.
Chief Bill Schutt said he and assistant chiefs Andy Merkel and Gary Patnode realized shortly after arriving on scene at 6978 Meadville Road that the biggest fire was confined to a piano, so they used extinguishers to put it out. They dealt with some additional flames using water in an ice cooler that had been left in the church. A fire hose was needed only to deal with some minor extension into a wall.
"Minimal water was used," Schutt said.
Brewster said whoever set the fire, set several small fires inside the building. No accelerant was used and because it was extinguished quickly, there was no structural damage.
The most serious damage was to the piano.
There are no suspects yet, though several church members and the original caller were interviewed. Because it's a church fire, and therefore a potential hate crime, ATF and the FBI were notified, per protocol.
Brewster described the church congregation as small and they meet only once a month with an out-of-town pastor conducting services. The church did meet yesterday.
"Our crew along with Indian Falls, who responded, too, did a good job," Schutt said. "It could have been much worse."
NOTE: I went to the scene to get a picture of the church, which is now boarded up, and when I spoke to a Tribal Council member, he said I couldn't publish the picture without council approval, and the earliest approval could be granted would be tomorrow. So, no picture.