VSP: Fire that damaged Dummerston church considered arson


DUMMERSTON -- Vermont State Police are investigating a fire that damaged the interior of the historic Dummerston Congregational Church Monday night.

Vermont State Police confirmed on Tuesday night that the fire had been intentionally set, and are asking anyone with information to call the Arson Tip Line at 1-800-32-ARSON or the Vermont State Police at the Rockingham Barracks at 802-875-2112. A reward of up to $5,000 for information resulting in an arrest is being offered.

The damage from Monday night's fire appeared to be limited, and the church's pastor, the Rev. Susanna Griefen, said the outcome could have been far worse.

"There was some damage to a wall. There was some damage to molding," Griefen said, adding that, "we're feeling very grateful. There's nothing that can't be repaired."

At the scene Tuesday, West Dummerston Fire Department Chief Rick Looman said he could not comment at that time on what might have caused the blaze due to an ongoing investigation by the State Police, who also were on scene.

There was no visible exterior damage, though yellow caution tape blocked the church's front and side doors and debris was piled outside the front entrance.

Looman said firefighters were called to the church at 10:41 p.m. Monday.

"We had heavy smoke and fire on the west-side wall," Looman said. Those conditions led firefighters to sound a second alarm.

West Dummerston was assisted at the scene by firefighters from Brattleboro, Putney, NewBrook, Guilford and Chesterfield, N.H.

Additionally, Williamsville firefighters covered the West Dummerston station while another Brattleboro engine covered the town's center station.

"We were here for over two hours," Looman said.

According to the State Police report, "The fire was found to have mostly extinguished by a passerby who had seen the smoke and investigated it and were able to attack it with a fire extinguisher that was present within the church. There was no one in the building at the time of the fire and as a result there were no injuries. The fire departments were able to suppress the fire completely and damages are estimated to be approximately $25,000."

The white church sits at Middle Road and East-West Road in Dummerston Center. It was built in 1842, town historical records show.

In addition to serving as a place of worship and as a town polling and meeting place, the church also hosts the popular, annual Dummerston Apple Pie Festival each October. The festival is a major fundraiser for the church, and it draws attendees from far and wide: Last year, the congregation produced 1,500 pies.

As church leaders assess and repair the fire damage, Griefen said the congregation has options for other meeting places. As of Tuesday afternoon, there were not yet any detailed plans in place.

"We won't be meeting in the sanctuary right away," she said. "We haven't made decisions on what we're going to go."

But this Sunday already is taken care of: Griefen said church members previously had planned a weekend event at Green Mountain Camp in Dummerston, so the congregation will be able to meet there.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275. Follow him on Twitter @MikeReformer.


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