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Church catches fire for second time

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When fire crews arrived on scene about 12:28 p.m. Saturday, the church was engulfed in flames, as seen in this photo taken by Danny Gonzalez. (Submitted Photo)

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A little less than a year after a fire severely damaged a church owned by the Russian Orthodox Church in America, the structure caught on fire again early Saturday afternoon.

The Holy Protection of the Mother of God Orthodox Church, part of the Russian Orthodox Church in America, had held services in the East Sixth Street building until the previous fire in July 2017. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

No injuries were thought to have resulted from the incident at the time that crews were working to extinguish all flames and embers a little after 2 p.m.

The fire had been called in to emergency crews at about 12:28 p.m., according to Roswell Fire Marshal Matt Miller.

Seven Roswell Fire Department fire trucks had responded to 337 E. Sixth St. to find the church already engulfed in flames, Miller said.

Although not all flames had been extinguished by 2:18 p.m., the fire was thought to be under control, so some crews began to leave. Also at the scene, which at times was filled with gray smoke that was blown by breezes, were Roswell Police Department units, an ambulance and utility trucks.

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Miller said the cause of the fire is unknown. An investigation of the previous incident in July 2017, when the building was used for church services as well as living quarters for a few people, concluded that an electrical breaker in one of the living areas was the likely cause, he said.

Stephen Lee, chairman of the board of governors for the church, which had been operating under the name of Holy Protection of the Mother of God Orthodox Church, said the building was vacated after the first fire. The church had moved into the building in March 2016, according to earlier press reports.

Lee said the church had been insured in 2017, which paid off the mortgage, but about $300,000 was needed for repairs.

“We didn’t have the money to renovate it,” Lee said, who added that the church group had been hoping to sell some parts from inside the structure to raise some money. He described the church prior to Saturday’s incident as smoke-damaged with holes in the roof but with a chapel that was still salvageable.

Now, he said, the chapel was in ashes, according to what firefighters had told him.

“I have no idea what the motive would be,” he said. “There is nothing of value in the building. There were no people who had grudges against the church that I know of. I am at a loss.”

But Lee earlier had said, as did some neighbors at the scene, that people were thought to have stayed in or used the empty structure at times. Miller said he had heard reports of that but did not know for sure if that was the case.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.