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'Suspicious' Blaze Devastates Northwest Side Church

By Quinn Ford | November 9, 2013 2:53pm
 Officials said accelerants were used in a fire at Outreach Community Church early Saturday morning.
'Suspicious' Blaze Devastates Northwest Side Church
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HERMOSA — Federal investigators have deemed a blaze that tore through a Northwest Side church early Saturday morning "suspicious" after determining an accelerant was used in several places.

The fire broke out at the Outreach Community Church, in the 4300 block of West Parker Avenue, about 3:30 a.m. Saturday, said Fire Department spokesman Will Knight.

Firefighters put out the blaze about 4 a.m., and no injuries were reported, Knight said.

Tom Ahern, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said investigators are ruling the fire as "suspicious."

Ahern said the fire was found to have "multiple points of origin," including the church's balcony and sanctuary.

Dogs brought in by investigators found accelerants were used in several different areas of the church. The dogs can spot more than 30 different types of accelerants, and samples were taken from the church to be analyzed, Ahern said.

On Friday, the church was vandalized when bricks were thrown through the front windows, authorities said.

"Whether or not the incidents are related, we're still investigating that," Ahern said Saturday.

The flames did "extensive damage" to the church, but an exact dollar amount was not immediately available. Investigators were conducting interviews with neighbors and the church's pastor on Saturday.

In the 1990s, the ATF was mandated to investigate fires at places of worship after a rash of church fires in the South, but the agency regularly works with the city's police and fire departments to investigate fires, Ahern said.