Suspicious fire leaves Washington church with $80,000 loss - KPTV - FOX 12

Suspicious fire leaves Washington church with $80,000 loss

Posted: Updated: Jul 29, 2015 08:49 PM
KELSO, WA (KPTV) -

Nothing but charred rubble remains at the site of a beloved yearly live action performance behind the Kelso Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Firefighters battled the flames early Wednesday morning, unable to save the building that stored all the props.

It's an $80,000 loss and the latest in several fires that have happened at the church. A release from the Cowlitz Co. Sheriff's Office noted that four other small fires had to be extinguished at the same time behind the church.

Just two weeks ago a fire destroyed two buildings on the set. It's something fire investigators say is the work of an arsonist.

“All in all, this is a bad morning,” Jim Wibberding, church pastor, said. “This is a discouraging day for our church."

For 18 years on the second weekend of December, thousands of people come to watch "The Journey to Bethlehem," an outdoor, walk-through experience that tells the story of Jesus’ birth.

It takes a cast of more than 170 actors to make it come to life, but now the possibility of it happening this year is uncertain.

"Our focus right now is the path forward and what are the options and we haven't chosen what that path will be,” Wibberding said. “We're frankly discussing about it, praying about it."

It's prayer that gives the people who started it 18 years ago hope. Annette Koelsch is one of those people who helped make "The Journey to Bethlehem" what it is today.

"I'm hoping to rebuild and continue.  Whether it's this year or next year.  It's been a huge success and I feel there is still a real need for it," she said. "Now I see it as an opportunity for community to be involved because we've already had phone calls asking I would like to help."

Investigators say there's no indication the fires are a hate crime.

Church members are expected to meet tonight to discuss if rebuilding is a possibility, but the church's pastor says a decision may not happen right away.

The Cowlitz Co. Sheriff's Office is asking that anyone with information regarding the fires to please call 360-577-3092 or text 847411, starting the message with the word "CCSOTip."

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