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Arson suspected at historic Iowa church


KEOKUK, Iowa (BP) Ė Investigators have not ruled out arson in an early morning fire that destroyed the educational wing and pastorís office of Bethany Baptist Church in Keokuk, Iowa, Sept. 19.

The Keokuk Fire Department was called to the 151-year-old historic structure at 1:30 a.m. and the structure was heavily damaged before firefighters brought the blaze under control at 4 a.m. The roof of the educational wing collapsed and smoke and water damage were extensive throughout the sanctuary. The pastorís study was destroyed and his library was deemed unsalvageable.

The state fire marshalís office said it is investigating the blaze as a suspicious fire and has not ruled out arson. Keokuk fire chief Mark Wessel said the fire was similar to a blaze in May at Keokukís First Baptist Church that was determined to be arson. Keokuk fire officials were cooperating with the state officials and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, which is automatically called in for cases of church fires.

The Baptist congregation received the historic church building as a gift from Keokukís First Congregational Church when it was disbanding in 1994. The older congregation, which was made up of older people, didnít want to watch their historic building go to ruin, so they gave the building to the 4-year-old Bethany Baptist Church.