Through a front door covered in yellow tape reading FIRE LINE DO NOT CROSS, Kim Starks looked inside the church she'd joined seeking a salve for her heart after her mother died.
The First Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Anchorage was where she'd gotten married, joined the choir and recently made the decision to start training as a pastor.
What used to be the roof to the handsome pumpkin-orange building on East 36th Avenue and MacInnes Street in Midtown was now a gash open to the sky. A fire that authorities say started early Friday morning ripped the roof off the church, in its third location since its founding in 1959, leaving the sanctuary a charred and gutted mess of soggy insulation, overturned pews and ash.
"This is my home," Starks said, peeking through the window at the ruin. But, she pointed out, a tall wooden cross behind the pulpit was still there, seemingly untouched.
"When I look in there and see the cross still on the wall I feel like, well, God is strong," she said.
The fire started just after midnight Friday morning, according to the Anchorage Fire Department.
Firefighters arrived to find flames on the roof and in the attic area above the church sanctuary. Some 20 fire units responded in all, fire department spokesman Al Tamagni said.
It took about an hour and 15 minutes to get the fire under control, according to the department.
The church was unoccupied at the time, he said.
Investigators from the department are looking at whether the fire was arson or accidental, Tamagni said. There was no estimate of damage available, he said.
Church members said it appears that the fire started outside, in the southwest corner of the church, and appears to have been intentionally set.
"It looks like someone set fire in the corner and it went straight up and set the whole top up," said Ronald Givens, a member of the congregation for 39 years.
Large parts of the church exterior looked untouched by flames. At the front entrance the fire was invisible except for a trail of wet ash.
But the inside looks like it will have to be gutted, Givens said.
This isn't he first time the First Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, which has a diverse congregation of about 200, has faced catastrophe.
The church, founded in 1959, saw its original location at the corner of East 12th Avenue and Denali Street destroyed by the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, according to a history published on the church's website. A later location downtown on F Street was lost when the city acquired the land to build the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
The congregation broke ground on the building at 36th and MacInnes in August 1985, according to the history. The building and land cost about $1.2 million to build back then, Givens said.
Rebuilding isn't a question, he said.
"We will rebuild," he said. "But it will take time."
No decision has been made as to where services will be held in the meantime, though at least one church has offered space. The Rev. Jerry Webb, the church's head pastor, was flying in from a trip to Fairbanks that was cut short Friday. The congregation plans to hold a meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday to discuss the future.
Evone Alston and Kim Starks stood in the parking lot and started a hymn they'd sung at choir practice Thursday night, hours before the fire started, "I Will Bless You Lord."
If nothing else, they'd hold services on the grass outside Sunday morning, said Alston, a member since the early 1990s.
"It's just a building," Alston said. "There's no life gone. It's sad, but God has a plan."
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