Two arrested in Mormon church fire

February 23, 1993|By Joe Nawrozki and Roger Twigg | Joe Nawrozki and Roger Twigg,Staff Writers Staff Writer Glenn Small contributed to this article.

Two suspects, one of them 13 years old, were arrested early today and charged with setting the fire that caused $3 million in damage to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Essex late Saturday.

Anthony James Pfarr, 18, a student at Kenwood Senior High School and resident of Essex, and the 13-year-old were taken into custody yesterday afternoon and charged with statutory burning.

Mr. Pfarr was ordered held for trial on $35,000 bail. The 13-year-old, a student at Stemmers Run Middle School, was released to the custody of his parents.

Sgt. Stephen Doarnberger, a Baltimore County police spokesman, said both were arrested after police received a telephone tip from a parent in Essex.

"The fire appeared to be started as a prank, but quickly got out of control," Sergeant Doarnberger said.

As sunlight streamed through the charred and collapsed roof of the church yesterday, Don Stebbing, the maintenance manager, stood in the chapel and said: "We could have a fine Easter sunrise service in here. We wouldn't have to go outside," he said, bringing laughter from fellow parishioners.

The blaze nearly destroyed the building, on Stemmers Run Road, and caused an estimated $3 million in damage. Yesterday, parish members continued to salvage what they could -- desks, chairs and other belongings.

Firefighters saved church records and protected the church organ and piano.

Rebuilding will take about 18 months. Mormon church officials visited the site yesterday and said removal of debris could begin Thursday, Mr. Stebbing said.

The blaze apparently started when someone set fire to a wooden fence behind the 25,000-square-foot building. Flames ignited the roof and from there raced through the building, officials said.

The fire was reported at 10:30 p.m. Saturday. More than 120 firefighters, whose equipment included four ladder trucks, battled the blaze for more than eight hours.

Fire Chief Mike Whittaker said the church's sprinkler system was ineffective, because the fire raged through the roof above the system.

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