12-06-2016  12:09 am      •     

Investigators with the Metro Arson Task Force announced Thursday the source of the fire that consumed the Morning Star Baptist Church on Feb. 5 is officially considered "undetermined."
Portland Fire Capt. Rich Stenhouse said he would like nothing more than to pinpoint the course of the fire's path through the 88-year-old church.
"But I can't do that," he said. "I find that immensely frustrating."
While the findings of the investigation don't rule out arson as a cause of the fire, lab results found no evidence of ignitable liquids.
"There are no detectable signs of arson at this time," Stenhouse said.
Pastor Albert Wayne Johnson said he was grateful to the investigators for their commitment and to the community for their support.
"While many speculate arson … arson which is hate … it does not exist in our community," he said. "That makes me proud."
Colene Domenech, of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said investigators believe the fire started on the first floor at the south end of the building, where electrical lines, as well as the organ room were located. She said there were no signs of a break-in, and evidence of a hate crime -- including graffiti or someone taking credit for the fire – does not exist. The almost complete destruction of the building made the investigation very difficult, said Stenhouse. The intense heat of the fire was caused by several factors, including high ceilings and the fact that stained glass windows blew out, giving the fire a fresh source of air. The case will officially remain open, although every lead has currently been exhausted.
The church's congregation plans on rebuilding at the same site, Johnson said. The money Morning Star has received from insurance and donations has been enough to begin excavation of the site, which should begin sometime next week.
He said the church – which has been meeting at Rose City Funeral Chapel and other locations since the blaze -- is still asking for support from the community and is still accepting donations. Donations can be made to the "Morning Star Catastrophe Relief" account at any Wells Fargo bank.
Of the 1,500 church fires annually in the United States, only 17 percent are determined to be arson, according to figures from the ATF. Of the 1,017 structure fires in Portland last year, 7.5 percent were officially designated "undetermined," less than the national average of 12 percent, according to the Portland Fire Bureau.

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