As reported by the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, the damage from the blaze is estimated at over $1 million. According to James Steele, chief of the Central Mat-Su Fire Department, the fire is being treated as "very suspicious."
It appears that the fire was set outside the church building, "while at least five people were inside participating in a craft-making project." Fortunately, there were no injuries or fatalities. Chuck Heath, the Church's pastor, rejects the notion that the fire was "politically motivated."
The editorialist for the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman isn't so forgiving. The paper's editorial column on the fire, "Faith Trumps Terrorism," makes the case that a church arson, by its very nature, is an act of terrorism -- a contemptible hate crime.
Those who participated in Friday’s arson at Wasilla Bible Church are no better than the terrorist half a world away who bombs a mosque in the name of religious jihad. That those inside the local church were unhurt is a blessing. That Wasilla Bible Church is also the place of worship for Gov. Sarah Palin and came under national scrutiny during the recent presidential campaign makes the act more suspicious. As a nation that was founded on the bedrock principles of freedom to worship and freedom of political expression without fear of reprisal, our heartfelt sympathies go out to members of Wasilla Bible Church, along with our confidence in their faith and resilience.
Fire fighters battled the blaze in sub-zero temperatures on Friday night. Fire chief Steele referred to the church fire as "the largest Mat-Su Valley fire since the June 2007 fire that destroyed Susitna Valley Jr./Sr. High School." Fire fighters from four other departments were on stand-by throughout.
Photo Credit: ROBERT DeBERRY/Frontiersman