-- Mary A. Castillo
Church fire contained before much damage
Although they can still smell the smoke and don’t yet have access
to the community kitchen, members and staff of the Laguna Beach
Methodist Church are grateful to the Laguna Beach Fire Department for
extinguishing a trash fire before it got out of control.
Staff from the Orange County Mental Health Dept., who work out of
an office leased from the church, saw the fire just as it began on
the side of the building on Wesley Drive in South Laguna at about
4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“Linda [Rappaport] was out walking her dog when she smelled smoke
and heard the crackling,” said Valerie Gabel, property manager and
part-time bookkeeper for the church. “She yelled for one of the
office people to call the fire department.”
Within minutes four Laguna engines and a truck from Orange County
Fire Authority arrived on the scene, said Battalion Chief Jeff
Pastor Ginny Wheeler was called at her home just as she was about
to return to the church for a Bible study group.
However, what scared Wheeler that afternoon is that 50% of church
fires are the result of arson. As the insurance chairperson of the
United Methodist California Pacific Annual Conference, Wheeler has
firsthand knowledge of the devastation church fires inflict on
congregations and communities.
But in the is particular case, fire investigators ruled the cause
to be accidental, Latendresse said.