MAT-SU—The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said an accelerant had been poured on and around the outside of the Wasilla Bible Church in multiple places, including the entrances and exits, according to an ATF news release today.
Evidence that could help determine the type of accelerant that was recovered from the fire scene is being examined by the state crime lab. Results could be returned within two weeks.
On Friday Dec. 12, when the fire started, five women were inside the 35,314 square-foot church on Nicola Ave. behind Burchell High School. Responders were dispatched at about 9:40 p.m. Temperatures were below zero. No one was injured. One woman said their vehicles were plainly visible near the main adult entrance where fire began.
"It's an open investigation. As soon as possible, we'll update you on the results," said Fire Chief James Steele, who was the Incident Commander on the fire.
The church is attended by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her family. The church appeared in national press during her campaign for Vice President. Borough Mayor Curt Menard, and some state Legislators are also members.
"There is no information that the fire was politically motivated," Steele said.
Initial estimates indicate about $1 million in damage to the metal-framed building,which is valued at $4 million to $5 million dollars.
A joint task force is working on the case, including Matanuska-Susitna Borough's Central MAT-SU Fire Department, Wasilla Police Department, the ATF, and the State Fire Marshal's Office.
The Wasilla Police Dept. is taking the lead on a criminal investigation, Steele said.
Steele said the church was turned over to its members. The metal structure church is a two-story building with a fully enclosed mezzanine and a lot of wood construction in the interior. Classrooms and offices were damaged by fire. What Steele described as a "beautiful auditorium" with laminate flooring and a large stage, may have been damaged by smoke and water.