Chapel Burns on 2nd Anniversary of Church Fire

A suspected arson fire gutted the small chapel at El Monte's First Baptist Church on Monday, the second anniversary of another suspicious fire at the church, authorities said.

The 63-year-old chapel was engulfed in flames about 3:30 a.m. The blaze at the structure in the 3300 block of Meeker Street caused about $300,000 damage. No one was hurt.

It took 75 firefighters an hour to extinguish the flames that charred pews and melted stained-glass windows honoring the church's founders. A newer, large chapel was not damaged.

County Fire Inspector Henry Rodriguez said the fire is considered suspicious but investigators are awaiting results of tests before declaring it an arson.

After the fire, a teenager surveyed the damage with tears running down her cheeks. "It's God's house--you are supposed to respect God's house," she said.

Authorities called in members of the federal House of Worship Task Force, which probes the causes of church fires, to investigate.

John D'Angelo, an alcohol, tobacco and firearms agent and spokesman for the task force, said the church was damaged by arson fires on consecutive weekends two years ago, but there is no indication that the fires were hate crimes.

The Rev. Jay Gauthier said a suspect was questioned in the previous fires but was never arrested.

A dog trained to sniff out fuels used to set blazes smelled traces of a possible incendiary substance inside the building, officials said. Laboratory results were pending.

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