Investigators: Church fire likely caused by cigarette

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE, Wash. - An early morning fire that heavily damaged the Mount Zion Lutheran Church in Mountlake Terrace was likely caused by a lit cigarette discarded in a plastic container, investigators said.

Firefighters responded to the church at 21428 44th Ave. West at around 4 a.m. Wednesday after receiving reports of smoke and flames coming from the building.

Flames were about 20 feet high when firefighters arrived. They cut holes in the roof and sprayed water on the fire to extinguish it.

In the aftermath, half the church's roof is gone and the interior of the building suffered major damage. The flames destroyed the chapel and the administration area of the church. Damage is estimated at $300,000.

Fire crews searched the building to make sure no one was inside. One firefighter was injured when he was struck by a chunk of sheet rock that came loose.

Fire investigators initially discovered what they thought was an incendiary device behind the building - but it was later determined that it was just rubbish unrelated to the fire.

After further investigation, officials said they suspect the blaze was sparked by a cigarette that was left smoldering in a plastic container.

The church pastor, Rev. Frank Payne, says the building is insured and, right now, he's focusing on moving forward.