A string of seven fires within a city block in Bend, Ore., started with the scorching of a historic church during the morning darkness Wednesday and continued until after dawn, when firefighters spotted two cars engulfed in flames, officials said.
After firefighters arrived at Trinity Episcopal Church’s main sanctuary around 2:15 a.m., a slew of other fires were spotted nearby -- one at another building across the street that the church uses to serve homeless people, three that burned outside portions of residences, including a garage and a shed, and two vehicle fires, Bend Fire Marshal Larry Medina told the Los Angeles Times.
Medina, citing the ongoing investigation along with local and state police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said it was too soon to comment on whether the fires were arson.
Local station KTVZ-TV reported that police were following snowy footprints in hunting for suspects.
“We’re investigating all seven scenes,” Medina said, adding that there haven’t been any arson incidents in the area recently.
When Ginger Sanders got a phone call from her father at 5 a.m., the Trinity Episcopal Church congregant panicked, knowing her mother was sick in the hospital. Her father did have bad news, but it wasn’t what she expected.
"He said, 'Your church is on fire,' " Sanders told The Times. "I just sat here and cried. It’s absolutely heartbreaking."
For Sanders, who volunteers on the altar guild at the church, which was built in 1929 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, called her congregation a group that goes out of its way to cross boundaries and embrace others.
“The reason I came back to this church wasn’t the denomination,” she said. “It was the amount of love and care.”
Sanders then considered the homeless people for whom the church serves lunch and dinner several times a week from the second burned building, and grew sad.
“People love the church, it’s our heart “ she said. “The homeless people there are very protective of that church.”
Sanders resisted the urge to drive down and survey the damage, she said, because she didn’t want to get in the way of the firefighters.
Kelly Cannon-Miller, director of Des Chutes Historical Museum across the street from the church, told The Times she walked over to see the partially charred building Wednesday.
“The building is still up,” she said, adding that most of the damage she could see was on the back side of the church.
The building where the homeless people gather, however, had “pretty significant damage,” she said.
“It’s very historically tied to our sense of the community,” Cannon-Miller said of the church with a distinctive red door off the city’s Wall Street. “The foot of Wall Street, for us, would be Trinity Episcopal Church.”