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-- Mary A. Castillo Church fire contained before...

October 18, 2002

-- Mary A. Castillo

Church fire contained before much damage

Although they can still smell the smoke and don't yet have access

to the community kitchen, members and staff of the Laguna Beach

Methodist Church are grateful to the Laguna Beach Fire Department for

extinguishing a trash fire before it got out of control.

Staff from the Orange County Mental Health Dept., who work out of

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an office leased from the church, saw the fire just as it began on

the side of the building on Wesley Drive in South Laguna at about

4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

"Linda [Rappaport] was out walking her dog when she smelled smoke

and heard the crackling," said Valerie Gabel, property manager and

part-time bookkeeper for the church. "She yelled for one of the

office people to call the fire department."

Within minutes four Laguna engines and a truck from Orange County

Fire Authority arrived on the scene, said Battalion Chief Jeff

Latendresse.

Pastor Ginny Wheeler was called at her home just as she was about

to return to the church for a Bible study group.

However, what scared Wheeler that afternoon is that 50% of church

fires are the result of arson. As the insurance chairperson of the

United Methodist California Pacific Annual Conference, Wheeler has

firsthand knowledge of the devastation church fires inflict on

congregations and communities.

But in the is particular case, fire investigators ruled the cause

to be accidental, Latendresse said.

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