Arson a possibility in LDS church fire in Tolleson

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Gibby Parra

Posted on June 29, 2012 at 6:27 AM

Updated Saturday, Jun 30 at 10:32 AM

Map: 700 N. 95th Avenue

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TOLLESON -- Investigators are trying to determine if an early morning fire that destroyed a Tolleson church might have been arson. Early indications are that the fire is suspicious.

Fire crews were called out to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints northwest of 91st Avenue and Van Buren Street at about 3:30 a.m. Friday.

Firefighters were able to get inside and douse the flames on the first floor of the building relatively quickly, but they did not immediately realize that the flames had already moved into the attic.

The crews were actually packing up to clear the scene when the flames in the attic flared up.

3TV's camera was rolling as those flames shot through the roof 20 to 30 feet into the air and thick black smoke poured from the roof line. Crews quickly went defensive, calling in a second ladder truck to get water on the fire from above.

The church has undergone multiple construction project as it expanded over the years. Those additions made it difficult for firefighters inside the building.

The fire gutted the building and caused the roof to collapse. The structure is a total loss, but the good news is that no injuries were reported.

It's not yet known what sparked the fire. Investigators will spend the morning sifting through the debris to determine what happened. ATF agents will be assisting, which is standard procedure in the case of church fires.

The church, which was established in the '50s, hosts three congregations totaling about 1,400 members.

Several of those members gathered at what was left of their place of worship. While they are understandably upset, they say will stay strong together.

"Our faith remains strong, probably stronger than ever," said a man who has been part of the congregation for 40 years. "We will rebuild. It's only a building. These things happen."

"What's done it done, whether somebody set it on fire, whatever happened," said Miriam Sugura, who teaches seminary. "It doesn't matter. I just needs to be rebuilt. we just need to go forward."

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