ATF says arson caused LDS Church blaze, sets $5,000 reward
FARMINGTON — Federal and local investigators say arson was the cause of a church fire last month, and a reward was posted July 15 in an attempt to get tips leading to the arsonist’s capture.
“The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has announced a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for a fire at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Farmington, New Mexico,” the ATF stated in a press release.
The church, on the 400 block of West Apache Street, caught fire early on June 1 and a fire alarm alerted authorities to the crime. Despite a quick response by fire crews, the church was damaged.
Seth Bingham, a spokesman for the Farmington stake, said the church is encouraging anyone in the community with information to contact the appropriate agency, and said he was thankful for the investigation by local agencies.
"I think the church would be disappointed that arson would be determined to be cause of the fire," Bingham said. "Every house of worship for any denomination or congregation ought to be a sacred and special place."
The structure is in the middle of reconstruction. Uselman Construction Company is handling the work as the general contractor.
The chapel was built in the 1950's and included a gymnasium, a basement and second floor along with a full stage.
There was an extensive amount of smoke damage from the fire, which has led the contractor to clean items in the structure that can be cleaned, according to Bingham.
During a tour of the structure, Bingham described how the foyer of the building received the most damage as fire doors prevented the flames from entering the chapel and rooms in a west hallway.
The fire traveled down an east hallway from the foyer, torching the hallway along with damaging restrooms and offices for clerks and bishops.
The classrooms on two floors on the east side of the building also received smoke damage.
Smoke-damaged carpets have been removed from the gymnasium and the chapel.
Workers are also examining any fabric material, including carpet, drapery and insulation, to determine if they must be replaced, Bingham said.
Materials examined include fixtures and radiator covers along with library and book cases.
"Anything that could hold the smell of smoke, it's being pulled out of the building and being replaced," Bingham said.
The Farmington 2nd Ward, the Farmington 4th Ward and the Farmington 7th Ward continue to hold services off-site as remediation efforts continue on the structure.
The mission office was also relocated to the scout house at Taylor Park, 400 W. Comanche St.
“The investigation by the Farmington Fire Department in conjunction with the assistance of the San Juan County Fire Department and the Farmington Police Department has determined the fire was intentionally set, causing significant damage to the church,” the ATF release stated. “The investigation remains ongoing in an attempt to identify and arrest subject(s) responsible for the fire.”
Bingham said the church still plans to host its annual Pioneer Day Celebration on July 20 from 4 to 7 p.m. at Taylor Park at 400 W. Comanche St., behind the Apache building.
Those attending are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs, and dinner will be served at 5 p.m. For additional information on the event, call LeGrand Jack at 505-320-1377.
People with information can call the San Juan County Crime Stoppers at sjccrimestoppers.org or 505-334-8477, or the ATF via a toll-free hotline at 888-ATF-TIPS (1-888-283-8477). People can also use email via ATFTips@atf.gov, or contact ATF through its website at www.atf.gov/contact/atftips.
“Tips can also be submitted anonymously to ATF using the Report it app, available on both Google Play and the Apple App Store or by visiting www.reportit.com (link is external) using the Phoenix field division as the location,” the release stated.
Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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