Congregation will rebuild after fire

WARREN -- The 40 or so people who worship each week in Austin Village Baptist Church are looking for a new spiritual home after a fire heavily damaged their building.
"We will probably move in with another church in our association," said Fred Ricer, pastor for nearly a year. "It is all subject to change."
Officials estimated Thursday's fire, which destroyed one leg of the L-shaped brick building, caused at least $150,000 damage. Flames sent the ceiling of the sanctuary tumbling in and destroyed a half-dozen classrooms.
Ricer said members helped build the church 40 years ago. The structure was insured, and they will rebuild, he said.
Flames were shooting through the roof when firetrucks arrived around 11 a.m., said Lt. Tom Walker, commanding officer at the scene. The roof collapsed on five to seven firefighters, shortly after they arrived, but no one was hurt, said James Nutt, acting fire chief.
Congregation members were in the building early on the day of the fire, cleaning up damage from a waterline break the night before, said fire investigator Jeff Koehn.
The church sanctuary was decorated and outfitted with audiovisual equipment for vacation Bible school, which had been meeting evenings this week. The final program was to have been tonight, Ricer said.
The last parishioner left around 10:15 a.m. Thursday. "It doesn't appear to be arson at all right now," Koehn said. "It appears to be accidental."
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was on the scene to investigate.

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