Fire Officials Say Massive Church Fire Was Intentional

By: Sarah Plake/ Ariana Cohen/Justin Surrency
By: Sarah Plake/ Ariana Cohen/Justin Surrency
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TOPEKA, Kansas (WIBW) -- Topeka fire officials believe massive fire that destroyed a local historical landmark to be the result of Arson. They have yet to release an official motive for the blaze.

Fire crews were working for hours on a massive fire near downtown Topeka Sunday morning.

Large clouds of smoke and flames could be seen billowing out of the church at 1600 Harrison when the Topeka Fire Department got the call around 8 a.m.

Shawnee County Dispatch said the building is fully involved in flames and crews couldn't immediately get inside the building to find out the cause.

No one was inside the building and no one was injured.

The Shawnee County Appraisers Office lists the property's evaluation at $28,000, but the loss associated with the damage is yet to be determined.

Topeka Fire Department, as well as Topeka Police Department, Kansas Gas Service and Westar Energy responded to the scene. A 13 News reporter counted 9 firetrucks at the scene.

The building was a local historic landmark, but Topeka's city council voted in August to demolish it.

Flames blazed through the roof of the old Harrison Street church Sunday morning. Nearby residents say the fire spread throughout the building quickly.

"It was only in 2 corners, and then 5 minutes later it was everywhere all over the church, it was horrible, I've never seen anything like it before," said nearby resident, Anna Flores.

"Big flames and parts falling down from the church," says 6-year-old Joavani Urista when describing what he witnessed.

As heavy black smoke rolled out of the building, firefighters battled the blaze for nearly 2 hours. Topeka Fire Department Battalion Chief Ron Huffard told 13 news the cause of the fire was unknown but nearby residents have their own suspicions.

"My mom claims that she sees homeless people in there, and we saw a guy that told us in about 3-4 weeks, we wouldn't see the building," said nearby resident, Kara Crumley.

"Homeless were people were living in it, and that's probably how it started," says Flores.

And a few hours later after the blaze was extinguished, crews partially demolished the building. Crowds gathered to watch the destruction, among them was Topeka City council member (District 1) Karen Hiller.

"This is my district, just visiting with neighbors who woke up to flames who are without power right now and cable," says Hiller.

Now, scattered bricks and only a shell remain of the structure built in the 1900's.

"I wish it wouldn't have burned down because there is a lot of history in it," says Flores.

The old building was home to the former Trinity Methodist Church. Fire officials told 13 news the church was abandoned and they only partially demolished the building to sift through the lower level to see if they found any bodies. Their investigation is ongoing.


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