(VANCOUVER, Wash.) — Authorities are investigating mysterious fires at two churches in the Vancouver, Washington, area that occurred within a day of one another.
“We have two churches in one fire district and that’s not normal,” said David Schmitke, the public information officer with Clark County Fire District 6. “We’re not quite to the point where we can say they’re connected just yet. The fire marshal hasn’t gotten to that point yet.”
On Wednesday, around 3 a.m., firefighters responded to reports of a three-alarm fire at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Hazel Dell, Washington. Fire investigators estimated the damages to be around $2 million, according to ABC affiliate KATU-TV.
Nearly 24 hours later, firefighters were back at it after they were called to a blaze at Liberty Bible Church of the Nazarene, about 10 minutes away from First Congregational United, in Vancouver.
Inside Liberty Bible Church, the smell of fuel was unmistakable, authorities said. Fire investigators said that a Molotov cocktail had been thrown through a window to the church’s nursery.
The Rev. Larry Rounsley, a pastor at Liberty Bible Church, said the building had sustained mostly water damage. He said a recently installed, brand-new sprinkler system had likely saved the church from being totally destroyed.
“You know, it’s hard to put yourself in the mind of why someone would do that,” Rounsley said today. “Why they would pick a church of all places. I look at it with extreme sadness for the sacrifices that people make that are part of this community to have a special place like this.”
Rounsley said the church had no known enemies and no threats had been made.
“The church is received really well in the community,” he said. “We have a good relationship with neighbors.”
In the meantime, fire investigators today continued their probe into the blazes, looking for a link to the two churches.
“The sheriff has been telling other people, other churches, to be mindful, to be vigilant. … [And] also telling people who live around faith-based centers to keep an eye out,” Schmitke said.
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