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Olympia church a total loss after second fire there in 5 months


The Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses caught fire early Tuesday morning in Olympia, prompting a large response and an investigation into how it started. (KOMO News photo)
The Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses caught fire early Tuesday morning in Olympia, prompting a large response and an investigation into how it started. (KOMO News photo)
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OLYMPIA, Wash. - An Olympia church was destroyed by fire early Tuesday, five months after it was hit by a previous, less destructive blaze that was determined to be arson.

Crews responded to the blaze, at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses at 22nd Avenue SE and Cain Road SE, at about 3:15 a.m. after receiving reports of smoke and flames there.

The church was fully ablaze when first responders arrived at the scene. Firefighters attacked the flames with multiple large hoses, but the building could not be saved. Portions of the roof have caved in and the building is considered a total loss, fire officials said.

The same church was targeted by arson in March of this year, along with a similar fire soon afterward on the same morning at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses in Tumwater. Video surveillance footage showed a person pouring a liquid on the exterior of the Olympia church in the earlier fire, but no suspect was ever arrested.

A Kingdom Hall in Yelm was targeted in May, when someone fired several rifle shots into the building.

As Tuesday's fire occurred after normal church hours while the building was closed, suspicious activity has not been ruled out.

A man was taken into custody a few blocks away from today's fire with soot on his hands. But officials later said he wasn't the suspect seen in the earlier surveillance video, and there wasn't enough evidence to call him a person of interest in the fire. He was arrested on an outstanding warrant for an unrelated issue.

No one was inside the church at the time of the fire, and no injuries have been reported.

Investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spent Tuesday trying to determine where and how the fire started. They gathered surveillance video from the building this afternoon. Police expect to learn more in the coming days.

Meanwhile members of the congregation came together Tuesday outside the Olympia hall, bringing food and drinks to the investigators.

“I wouldn’t say that I am worried,” Larry Sherman said. “I’m concerned. But you know, these things happen.”

Sherman helped build that hall with his congregation. But he has faith for the future.

“It’s just a building,” he said. “It will be rebuilt.”

In the meantime, members of the congregation tell me they will shift to other Kingdom Halls in the region.

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Law enforcement around Thurston County are ramping up patrols around Kingdom Halls after four incidents in four months.

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