Church fire ruled electrical

April 10, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. - Failing to come up with any proof that arson destroyed a rural Fulton County church early Saturday morning, investigators ruled Thursday that the fire was caused by faulty wiring.

The exact cause of the fire won't be determined until sometime next week, when an electrical engineer from an insurance company inspects the scene, said Pennsylvania State Trooper Tom Marshall, a state fire marshal who led the investigation.

"We ruled it an accidental fire due to an electrical malfunction," Marshall said.

He said investigators determined that the fire that destroyed the Calvary Independent Baptist Church, on U.S. 522 two miles north of McConnellsburg, started in the rear of the church near the stage and baptismal.

"There was too much damage for us to pinpoint it any more than that," Marshall said. He said there was no evidence that any incendiary device or accelerant was used.


The investigative team included Marshall, two agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and an arson-detecting police dog and her trainer from Harrisburg.

At first investigators would not rule out the possibility that the fire, which was discovered shortly before 4:30 a.m. Saturday by a passerby, was connected to a rash of suspected arsons that have damaged or destroyed seven rural churches in western Pennsylvania since the first of the year.

"It was too close not to rule it out," one investigator said.

ATF agents have been assigned to all church fires since a series of black churches in the South were destroyed by arsonists.

The Pennsylvania churches, including the one in Fulton County, have mostly white congregations.

Pastor David M. Carroll said Thursday he was relieved to learn that the fire was accidental and that no person destroyed his church.

The building was insured and will be rebuilt, he said.

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