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Fire at Chapel in Anaheim Called Work of Arsonist : Crime: Officials say $50,000 blaze at First Congregational Church’s historic building might be related to a string of break-ins at local churches.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A historic chapel was seriously damaged Sunday night by arson that investigators said might be connected to a recent spate of break-ins at local churches.

The fire gutted a choir office and Sunday school classroom and sent smoke throughout a 66-year-old adobe building, which is part of the First Congregational Church on State College Boulevard. Investigators estimated the damage at $50,000 to the Griffith House.

A tiny chapel used for weddings and rented to smaller denominations suffered smoke damage but did not burn.

Fire investigators said the 11:50 p.m. blaze apparently was set by someone who broke in and set fire to paper in the choir room. Food was stolen at another building on the church grounds--the latest among a string of thefts at local churches in the past five weeks, authorities said.

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“It’s definitely arson,” Fire Investigator Ray McLaughlin said.

Authorities could not determine a motive for the blaze, which firefighters brought under control in 15 minutes.

Church officials said this was the second fire in 14 months in the historic Griffith House building, listed among the city’s historic buildings. A fire believed set by transients damaged a wooden floor on July 4, 1993, said Pastor Jim Schibsted.

The 300-member church owns the adobe house but meets in another building.

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The fire Sunday was the latest in a string of thefts and break-ins at the church’s complex at 515 N. State College Blvd., Schibsted said. Concern over security has prompted officials to cancel a planned sleep-over this Thursday by about 30 children who attend the church’s summer day camp.

“Everybody’s just sick,” said Teri Hettig, director of the preschool and day camp. “Who would do such a thing?”

Anaheim police are already investigating five other break-ins in the past five weeks at churches within a two-square-mile area. Pastors at two nearby churches have reported the theft of computers and audio equipment, Schibsted said .

The fire came as the church is beginning a $90,000 renovation of the complex. The incident will delay the work, but repairs will be made to the building, which was donated to the church in the 1950s.

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The rambling Spanish-style house was listed as architecturally important in the city’s 1980 survey of historic structures.


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