September 29, 1996 in Nation/World

For Better And Worse Marriage Bonds Forged In Fire At Downtown Church

By The Spokesman-Review

Wedding bells turned to fire alarms during a large ceremony Saturday afternoon at a church that has been a downtown Spokane fixture for nearly a century.

Craig and Jill Looper, both 23, had just finished exchanging vows when the fire alarm sounded at First Presbyterian Church, 318 S. Cedar, about 2 p.m.

All 350 guests escaped unharmed.

“One hot kiss,” joked Lori Powell, the bride’s mother, about the cause of the fire. “They kissed out of turn and the fire alarm went off.”

The alarm summoned 45 firefighters, who needed nearly two hours to determine the fire started in a basement office located near two preschool rooms.

The church’s vast crawl spaces, lofts and ventilation system made finding the fire difficult, said Spokane City Fire Chief Bobby Williams.

Electrical problems likely sparked the fire, said battalion chief Dan Brown.

While dozens of firefighters combed the building, a handful carried out candles, flowers, gifts and belongings left by the wedding party.

Out front, family and friends gathered around the bride and groom as the couple, who met at Washington State University, signed their marriage license on the hood of a fire truck.

“Every wedding has little things that happen,” reasoned Powell.

“But a fire?” Jill Looper laughed as she fussed with a black stain on the edge of her dress caused by all of the commotion.

The church, which was built in 1908, appeared to suffer minor structural and smoke damage, Williams said. The fire was in an addition built three years ago, said Deane Hendricks, the church’s interim pastor, who officiated at the wedding.

The wedding cake was one of the things lost to smoke damage.

A short reception scheduled in the church was canceled, but the couple had a small family gathering on the Mish-An-Nock cruise boat on Lake Coeur d’Alene.

Church officials also canceled a Saturday night worship service and concert, Hendricks said.

Scheduled services and Sunday school will be held today.

Despite the disruption in their ceremony, the Loopers kept their sense of humor. Both looked forward to spending their honeymoon in Cancun, Mexico.

“I had to go to Arctic Circle (restaurant) to get my first toast,” Jill Looper said.

Craig Looper was planning to send a tape of the wedding to “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

“We better get 10 grand out of this, but we don’t want to meet Bob Saget,” he said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos

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