Police: Arsonist strikes old church in Brush Prairie

Building originally occupied by Bethesda Slavic Church, has been vacant

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian Assistant Metro Editor

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Another building in Clark County, this time a former church in Brush Prairie, was the target of a suspected arson early Sunday morning.

It’s the third suspected arson in five days to strike a local church building.

Firefighters from Clark County Fire District 3 were dispatched at about 2 a.m. Sunday to a fire alarm at 11910 N.E. 154th St. The building is the former home of the Bethesda Slavic Church but is being converted into an addiction treatment center by Daybreak Youth Services.

Firefighters discovered that a fire had been set in one of the building’s rooms, causing an estimated $25,000 in damage, according to a press release from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

Annette Klinefelter, executive director of Daybreak Youth Services, said it appeared that someone broke an outside window into a room on the back of the building, threw a gas can inside and lit it on fire. She said the fire was promptly extinguished.

“Fortunately, the damage was so minimal that it is not going to significantly delay the project,” Klinefelter said of the new treatment center. She added that renovation plans already included installing windows that can’t be broken.

Daybreak Youth Services is a nonprofit providing residential treatment for teens with chemical dependency problems. The 30,000-square-foot church is being turned into a residential treatment facility with at least 11 beds.

“We’re undergoing cleanup, maximizing security in our building and moving forward with God’s grace,” Klinefelter said Sunday afternoon.

The Clark County Fire Marshal’s Office, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating Sunday’s fire and two recent church fires as connected arsons, according to the sheriff’s office.

At about 3 a.m. Wednesday, a fire struck the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Hazel Dell. At about the same time the following morning, a fire was reported at Liberty Bible Church of the Nazarene in the Salmon Creek area.

“It’s really, really sad that churches are being the target of anger in our community. … You just want it to stop,” Klinefelter said. 

Clark County Fire Marshal Jon Dunaway urged continued vigilance from the community and places of worship.

“Be alert and report anything suspicious or unusual,” he said in a statement. “It may be a small detail that makes the difference in solving these cases. Also, make sure access points are secured, exterior areas are illuminated, and fire systems are in working order.”

Anyone with information about the fires is asked to call 911; the Clark County Fire Marshal’s Office at 360-397-2186, ext. 3321; or the sheriff’s office at 360-397-6079.

A reward of up to $10,000 may be available for information leading to an arrest.