December 29, 2008 in City

Fire ravages church offices

Seventh-day Adventist records, servers salvaged
Meghann M. Cuniff Staff writer
 
Dan Pelle photo

Onlookers watch the headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church burn as an early-morning fire sweeps through the bookstore and main entrance of the building Sunday.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

A large fire engulfed most of a church’s regional headquarters just west of Spokane on Sunday, displacing the administrative offices for the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Upper Columbia Conference and destroying a Christian bookstore and retail shop.

Witnesses said the early-morning blaze exploded in size shortly after firefighters arrived about 5:10 a.m. Flames consumed the east portion of the building and spread through walls and the ceiling into the center entryway, destroying meeting space and a youth department headquarters in the downstairs.

The building, located at 3715 S. Grove Road and visible from Interstate 90, served as an office for 30 Seventh-day Adventist schools and 117 churches and other operations in the area, including Camp MiVoden at Hayden Lake. It did not contain worship space. The Upper Columbia Conference has about 25,000 members in Eastern Washington, North Idaho and northeastern Oregon.

The building is insured, and Max Torkelsen, president of the Upper Columbia Conference, hopes to rebuild on the same site.

“It fits this location,” he said. “I’ve always liked the building because I thought it looked like it fit in the Northwest.”

The building’s location – a quarter-mile down a small road on a forested plot – coupled with slushy, snowy conditions, hampered fire crews, said Cheney Fire Chief Mike Winters.

One hydrant about 3,000 feet from the building fed the firetrucks, Winters said. It took more than five hours to contain the blaze, he said, and flames were still visible about 2 p.m.

Winters didn’t know what caused the fire and said an investigation would likely begin today.

About 55 firefighters from Cheney, Airway Heights, Spokane and several Spokane County districts fought the fire. It was the biggest blaze inside the jurisdiction – Spokane County Fire District 10 – in “quite a long time,” Winters said.

The blaze began in the east end of the building, in the attic of the Adventist Book Center and retail shop, and it spread to the center part of the building, which included the entry and office space. Firefighters contained the fire there, saving the administrative offices.

Employees saved major items like computer servers and financial and student records from the western portion of the building.

The server for the Web site bibleinfo.com was saved, and the Christian radio and TV station housed in the building was located in the preserved portion; both are off the air now but may temporarily operate out of a Seventh-day Adventist church on the South Hill, said Jay Wintermeyer, the church’s regional spokesman.

The fire destroyed about two-thirds of the 40,000-square-foot building, and Torkelsen said he didn’t expect to use any portion of the remaining building for some time. Officials might look at using space at churches in the area or renting office space, he said.

“It’s a little early to make long-term commitments,” Torkelsen said.

The building’s fire and security alarm sounded shortly after 5 a.m., which alerted fire crews and the church’s regional human resources director.

Bookstore manager Herman Schreven learned of the fire about 5:15 a.m. when his wife, Sandy Schreven, a fire district lieutenant, was paged to respond to the blaze.

“It’s going to be OK,” Herman Schreven said. “I was lot more sick this morning.”

Built in 1977, the building was designed by a Sandpoint architect. Seventh-day Adventist Carl Campbell, a Wenatchee businessman, funded the property purchase and building construction.

A plaque noting Campbell’s contribution was located in the building’s entryway, Torkelsen said.

Meghann M. Cuniff can be reached at (509) 459-5534 or at meghannc@spokesman.com.


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