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Fire guts Wynona church, may be linked to burglary

Pastor David Downing examines his charred Bible on the podium at Wynona Assembly of God Church a day after a Saturday fire caused major damage to the inside of the metal church building. Arson is suspected in the blaze, which officials believe may have been set in an attempt to cover up for a burglary. JACK BUZBEE/J-C CORRESPONDENT
Pastor David Downing examines his charred Bible on the podium at Wynona Assembly of God Church a day after a Saturday fire caused major damage to the inside of the metal church building. Arson is suspected in the blaze, which officials believe may have been set in an attempt to cover up for a burglary. JACK BUZBEE/J-C CORRESPONDENT

WYNONA — A weekend fire at the Wynona Assembly of God Church apparently was set to cover up for a burglary, church officials said.

Sunday worship services were held in the church gymnasium after the Saturday morning blaze caused extensive interior damage to the main church building.

“It’s just mind-boggling,” said the church pastor, David Downing. “Everything was destroyed.”

Officials believe the fire was started by a person or persons who also stole a bass guitar and amplifier that were found to be missing from the church. While the stolen equipment is worth at least $1,000, the fire destroyed a $3,000 amplifier that was left behind — as well as a laptop computer and other valuable items.

“Whoever started the fire must have thought they were covering up the other (crime),” said Stacie Downing, the pastor’s daughter. “But, it doesn’t make any sense to cause this much damage.”

The blaze was discovered around 6:30 a.m. by a local firefighter who was driving past on his way deer hunting, officials said. Fire departments from nearby Pershing and Hominy helped to extinguish the flames, but not before they had ravaged the interior of the metal structure. In addition to the fire-gutted auditorium, there was substantial smoke and water damage to the nursery and other parts of the building.

Although the exterior of the 20-year-old church facility appears to be almost unharmed, the pastor is fearful the entire building may need to be demolished.

“I’m afraid the whole building may be compromised because of all the heat,” Downing said.

Church officials were told that the fire probably reached temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees, which caused keyboards on musical instruments and some of the windows to melt. A clock in the church had stopped running at 12:17, leading to speculation that the fire started around that time Saturday morning.

Bibles belonging to Downing and his wife, Ruth, had baked on the church podium, although their inside pages remained intact.

An investigator from the state fire marshal’s office visited the scene on Saturday and will determine an official cause of the fire. The Osage County Sheriff’s Office also is involved with the investigation.

“We have insurance, but those things will take time,” Downing said, adding that the outreach programs of the church could suffer in the meantime. “It’s a shame.”

While the incident may cause some disruptions, the pastor said the church will continue with all of its work.

“I just can’t believe someone would burn down a church for a bass and an amp,” Ruth Downing said. “It just builds a fire inside of us.”

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