Marshal: Smoke hours before fire gutted Kzoo church

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek
Black smoke in sky above road in Kalamazoo

Smoke rises from a fire at Open Door Church of God in Christ on Phelps Avenue in Kalamazoo.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kalamazoo fire marshal says a fire that gutted a church near downtown Kalamazoo appears to have started in the pastor’s office.

Kalamazoo Fire Marshal Scott Brooks’ findings were released to 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday as part of a public information request. In it, Brooks says a home surveillance camera captured the start of the May 15 fire at Open Door Church of God in Christ on Phelps Avenue near Charles Avenue.

The fire marshal said the footage showed light smoke coming from the church a few hours before the fire was reported. Brooks said the video showed the pastor’s office window eventually failing, with the fire growing “exponentially” almost immediately thereafter. Only two minutes passed from when the window broke and the flames appeared to the first 911 call about the fire.

Twenty-five firefighters worked for about four hours to douse the fire, attacking the flames from outside because the building’s roof and three of its walls collapsed.

Heat from the fire also damaged the siding on a house next door to the church.

No one was injured.

Brooks said church members didn’t report any electrical issues or recent major renovation projects at the church before the fire. A church member who said she was the last person in Open Door Church of God in Christ told the fire marshal she checked to make sure all lights and appliances were off before she left on May 12.

Pastor Blair McLain told Brooks the church has no known enemies, and the only unusual incident happened about three weeks prior when two people showed up at the church. The pastor said the pair asked when the previous pastor, whom he replaced about seven years earlier, would be getting out of prison.

The fire marshal said he recreated the inside of the church to try to trace the fire’s origin and path, but the cause of the fire is still undetermined. Investigations by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety are still underway.

The pastor told Brooks all money in the church was accounted for and there were no changes to the church’s insurance to suggest any fraud attempt.

The fire marshal said a boy who also confessed to setting the fire is not a suspect because his story did not line up with the facts of the case.

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