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Fire Causes Extensive Damage to Mormon Chapel in Anchorage

Fire Causes Extensive Damage to Mormon Chapel in Anchorage

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- A fire caused extensive damage Thursday to a chapel adjacent to the Mormon temple in Anchorage.

The temple is about 200 feet from the chapel and was not in any danger, said Melvin Nichols, president of the Anchorage Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The fire consumed much of the Brayton Chapel's roof, and there was water and smoke damage inside the structure, said Anchorage Fire Department spokesman Tom Kempton.

A neighbor smelled smoke about 4 a.m., and called authorities. Flames were seen leaping from the roof as firefighters arrived.

Kempton said it was too dangerous to put firefighters on the roof, so they decided to allow the fire to burn through it to provide ventilation. It burned much of the day, sending black smokes over south Anchorage.

It was too early for damage estimates, but Kempton said it's likely to be substantial.

The cause of the fire wasn't immediately known, but both Kempton and Nichols said there was no immediate reason to believe it was suspicious.

"There is nothing on the surface at all that indicates that this is anything but an unfortunate accident," Nichols said.

Instead, Nichols said it may have been caused by electrical or mechanical problem with a heating-ventilating-air conditioning unit. "The initial fire was right above that," he said.

This is the second time the Brayton Chapel has been extensively damaged by fire.

A suspected mechanical problem caused the chapel to burn down just before it opened about 30 years ago, Nichols said. Officials decided to rebuild.

Nichols said that is "one of the big questions we're going to have to face right now, reconstruct or build from scratch." Demolition and construction costs could run into the millions, he said.

Congregations, or wards, use the chapel on a regular basis, while the much-larger temple is reserved for more sacred LDS ordinances for the 20,000 church members in Alaska.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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