Fire hits second Jewish building in week

arson ruled

February 07, 2002|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

For the second time in less than a week, a suspicious fire broke out yesterday in an Upper Park Heights building used by an Orthodox Jewish congregation.

Investigators from the city fire and police departments and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have not ruled on the cause of a fire early Saturday at the Etz Chaim Center for Jewish Studies in the 3700 block of Fords Lane.

But the second fire, which started shortly before 7 a.m. yesterday at Machzikei Torah Congregation in the 6200 block of Biltmore Ave., about a block from Etz Chaim, has been ruled an arson, fire and police spokesmen said.

"Our detectives did interrogate a possible suspect this afternoon, but he has been released without being charged," said Agent Martin Bartness, a police spokesman.

Fire and police officials have not said whether the two fires are related. But members of Congregation Avodas Yisroel, the synagogue that worshipped at Etz Chaim and was displaced by the fire, were using space at Machzikei Torah.

Members of both congregations, nearly 50 people in all, were in the building yesterday reciting morning prayer when they smelled smoke coming from a first-floor women's bathroom. The fire, which was quickly extinguished, caused about $2,000 in damage.

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