Kincaid church fire could be latest in string of arsons

| August 3, 2010

KINCAID – Midland United Methodist Church could be the latest victim of a string of arsons that has plagued the Kincaid area for more than a year.

Christian County Sheriff David Mahan said a fire was discovered at the church about 4:45 a.m. Sunday. At the time, firefighters and deputies were at the scene of a nearby van fire that also appeared suspicious.

Authorities are investigating the possibility that both fires were part of a string of about a dozen suspicious fires that began in early 2009.

Until Sunday, most of the fires had occurred at vacant structures or involved vehicles.

“Unfortunately, (the person who might have set the church fire) had to go to a place of worship,” Mahan said.

Damage throughout church

Fire crews had just finished extinguishing a van fire in the 100 block of Central Avenue in Kincaid when they noticed smoke from somewhere nearby.

A Christian County Deputy was sent out to investigate, said Guy Choate, assistant fire chief for the Midland Fire Protection District. About 30 seconds later, the deputy reported that the church at 600 Tower Place was on fire.

There is an apartment at the back of the building, but no one was home. The building also contains a garage, the pastor’s office, a food pantry and the worship area.

The worst damage was done to the garage, office area and food pantry, which are in the middle of the building.

The worship area sustained smoke and water damage.

No information was available on the dollar amount of the damage, but Choate said the exterior walls are still standing. There is a hole in the roof over the garage.

Both Mahan and Choate said that if it hadn’t been for the van fire, they might not have discovered the church fire as quickly as they did.

“There’s not a lot of people out that early,” Mahan said.

Food pantry important part of community

Despite the fire, the congregation did manage to have services Sunday at the high school.

“We had a great service,” Rev. Linda Vonck said. “The people of God are resilient, and when things like this happen, we pull together.”

On Monday, Vonck was still assessing the damage. One of her concerns was the food pantry. She doesn’t know if any of the food they had in the pantry will be usable.

“We just started the pantry (in February of 2009), and we have at least 80 different families who really look to this pantry to help them make ends meet. We are going to do our best to get the pantry up and running.

“This community will pull together and we will do our best to get through it. I’m sure it will all be fine,” Vonck said.

Federal, state officials involved in investigation

The state fire marshal’s office on Monday called in the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to help with the investigation.

Anyone with information on the church fire, or other suspicious fires, can call the Arson Hotline at 1-800-252-2947.

People can also call Christian County Crime Stoppers at 824-9100.

John Reynolds can be reached at 788-1524.

13 fires

Prior to Sunday, The Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office had investigated 13 fires in the Kincaid area since February of 2009. Those fires include:

* A vehicle fire on Feb.4, 2009 at 923 Garden St.

* A residential fire on July 2, 2009 at 113 Elm St.

* A fire at a storage building on July 4, 2009 at 415 Hickory St.

* A residential fire on July 4, 2009 at 308 Walnut St.

* A residential fire on July 19, 2009 at 204 Central St.

* A fire at a storage-type building Sept. 1, 2009 at 106 S. Main St.

* A residential fire on Sept. 21, 2009 at 115 Chestnut St.

* A vehicle fire Oct. 25, 2009 at 123 Elm St.

* A fire at a storage-type building Jan. 29 at 217 Elm St.

* A vehicle fire Jan. 31 at 800 Railroad Ave.

* A vehicle fire Feb. 20 at 206 N. Edison St.

* A mobile home fire May 30 at 101 Chestnut St.

* A residential fire July 2 at 1398N 600 East St.

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