Police hunt city church fire culprit

| September 21, 2009

PASTOR John Merriweather and his congregation were homeless yesterday after an arsonist set fire to, and destroyed, the South Toowoomba Baptist Church in Geddes Street.

Nearby residents awoke to the sounds of glass windows exploding at 1.30am on Saturday and called triple zero.

Five fire crews arrived minutes later to find flames erupting from the rear of the church.

The two-storey brick building in Centenary Heights was well involved in fire which took more than two hours to control.

Firefighters battled the blaze throughout the night and it was completely extinguished just after 6am.

Pastor Merriweather and about 100 church members held their service in a park across the road from the charred building yesterday morning.

He described the sense of loss expressed over the weekend. The church was built in 1975.

“There were a lot of memories here, some people have been here since day dot,” Pastor Merriweather said.

The community had worked hard to raise money for the church’s front entrance renovations, which started about two months ago.

“This was all paid for by the local people. There is a real feeling of loss and grief,” he said.

The rear of the building was destroyed and the damage is estimated to be more than $300,000.

Pastor Merriweather said there was hope the newly renovated front section, which was damaged by smoke and water, could be salvaged.

It will be at least six months before the church can be used again, which will inconvenience the many community groups who utilise the building.

It is believed the fire started in the Junior Church room, located at the rear bottom level.

The children’s property – including a pool table, games, seats and more – melted into an unrecognisable heap of ash.

The destroyed property located upstairs includes a coffee machine, tables, chairs, carpet, and the sound system.

Pastor Merriweather recalled an incident three weeks ago where a box of books was accidentally left at the rear of the church after hours.

A cleaner found the charred remains of the books the next morning.

“Whether or not each incident is connected, I have no idea,” Pastor Merriweather said.

Toowoomba Police guarded the crime scene until a fire investigator arrived between 8am and 3.30pm on Saturday.

The church was insured and Pastor Merriweather said the incident could be seen as “a new opportunity”.

Church leaders will meet tomorrow night to discuss possible venues to meet.

Police do not yet know if an accelerant was used.

Anyone with information on the crime is urged to call Toowoomba CIB on 4631 6400.
 

http://www.thechronicle.com.au/story/2009/09/21/police-hunt-city-church-fire-culprit-parishioners-/

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Category: Church Security

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