Arson blamed for blaze in S.E. Houston

| April 11, 2010

Pauline Kwang wanted to scream Friday after she saw what was left of the southeast Houston church where she has worshipped for 20 years.

An arsonist late Thursday torched the Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church. On Friday, all that remained was charred wood and brick that had been pushed into piles and surrounded by a long stream of safety tape after the last sections of the ruined building were leveled.

“It's an empty feeling,” Kwang said. “It's like you're losing someone you really love.”

The fire was intentionally set, said Patrick Trahan, a spokesman for the Houston Fire Department, but authorities have not determined the motive or found a suspect.

More than 100 firefighters battled the blaze, which broke out about 11 p.m. Thursday at the church at 11303 Hughes. The arsonist apparently set off the fire in a breezeway near the middle of the church.

“It started there and spread very quickly in both directions,” Trahan said.

The intense fire was brought under control in about an hour. A section of a wall fell on an electrical worker who was cutting off power to the building, injuring his leg, Trahan said.

Church elder Jerry Beetz was among a handful of members who came by on Friday to console each other, shed a few tears and plan the next step for the congregation.

“This was our house. This is where we came together,” Beetz said.

Beetz learned about the fire early Friday after noticing that he had missed a late-night call on his cell phone from another church member.

“He was saying, ‘The building is fully involved in flames. It's going to the ground,' ” Beetz said. “I thought, ‘Good Lord. Did I hear him right?' ”

The heavy percentage of wood in the structure, which is believed to be about 40 years old, caused the fire to burn extremely hot, HFD officials said.

“They had to water down the fire trucks while they were putting water on the fire,” Trahan said.

Page Rander joined the church about 13 years ago when she moved to Houston. Because her relatives were back on the East Coast, the congregation provided her with a much-needed sense of belonging.

“I knew that I could spend Thanksgiving with family here at this church,” Rander said. “I never felt uncomfortable or unwelcome.”

Church members pride themselves on their inclusiveness. Their Web site said they welcome people of any nationality, race, sexual orientation or religious affiliation.

“No one was going to be judged for anything they've done wrong in their past or how they live their lives or what color their skin is,” Rander said.

Although they are occasionally sent critical mail and, more commonly, conservative tracts, Beetz said he can't recall any major problems because of the church's progressive position on controversial issues.

“They don't bother us. They don't threaten us — other than sending us literature by the bale,” Beetz said.

Services on Sunday will be held on the grounds. The building was insured and members expressed confidence that it will rise again.

“The old church is gone,” Kwang said, “but the new one is coming.”

 

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/6952514.html

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Category: Church Security

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