Arsonist sets fire to Selawik church

| May 12, 2010

The village of Selawik is reeling after an unknown arsonist or group of arsonists set fire to the newly constructed Friends Church in the center of town, burning bibles, songbooks and church flags, shutting down services and causing about $100,000 in damage May 8.

"We are devastated. Most of us are still in shock," said Tommy Ballot, Sr., who coordinated the construction of the church and was reached while working with a group of volunteers to clean up the damage. "A lot of men and women worked very hard and volunteered on it for the last nine or 10 months to build it, to have someone come here and try to burn it down really hurt."

The new church was opened with a dedication service just a month ago.

State Troopers believe that the fire was started at about 6 p.m. last Saturday, when an unknown person or group of people entered the church and deliberately started a fire in front of the pulpit. Volunteer firefighters responded once it was noticed there was smoke coming from the church and extinguished the flames.

Ballot said that the arsonist piled bibles, song books, church flags and several chairs together in front of the pulpit and set them ablaze. Most of the damage was from the resulting smoke in the congregation hall.

Since Saturday, community members have been putting in 12 hour days repairing the church. On Tuesday night Ballot said that about 20 men, women and young people were washing smoke from the walls and ceilings and fixing the floors. He said he was praying for 30 gallons of paint to come in time to paint over the blackened walls so that they could hold service in the congregation hall this Sunday, but it may take a week and a half before the church is reopened.

The Friends Church serves almost the entire village of 800. This church was built to replace the previous Friends Church, which burned to the ground three and a half years ago. Ballot said it was unknown what caused the first fire.

It took the congregation years to raise the money to buy the materials for the new church's construction. All the labor was volunteered – by Selawik residents, people from neighboring villages and companies like Northwest Electric out of Kotzebue, which did the electric work. Ballot said that by the times all the materials were purchased, there was just 89 cents left over in the construction fund.

The new church is a 50 by 100 square foot steel structure. Because Selawik does not have the cranes or heavy machinery used for such buildings, all the steel beams were raised by hand.

While the church is closed the congregation will hold services at pastor's cabin – a building where out-of-town pastors stay (the last pastor is currently out of town and couldn't be reached by press time). It's the same place that the congregation met while they were working to build their new church.

Ballot said it's a mystery who started the fire.

"It would be nice to know who that person is so we could try to help them," Ballot said, with a catch in his voice. "Because that guy or those people – they need help."

The fire is still under investigation by the State Troopers. Anyone with information about the crime is asked to contact them at 442-3222 or (800) 789-3222.

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Category: Church Security