Federal, local officials investigate cause of ‘suspicious fire’ at Kansas City church

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Officials with the Kansas City office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Kansas City’s police and fire departments have opened an investigation into a “suspicious fire” at the Harlem Baptist Church that they believe to be arson.

The fire was reported about 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the church at 251 N. Baltimore Avenue, which is near Wheeler Downtown Airport, said Fire Inspector Jason Spreitzer, a spokesman for the Kansas City Fire Department.

“It was actively on fire and we were able to get there really fast,” Spreitzer said. “I think our crews did a pretty great job preserving the scene and then they were able to extinguish it fairly quick.”

The church serves as the gathering place for the United Christian Fellowship. The congregation is mostly from the South Sudan.

The ATF has a Congressional mandate to investigate fires at houses of worship.

The ATF is working with the Kansas City Police Department’s bomb and arson detectives and the Kansas City Fire Department’s fire investigators to determine the cause of the fire, Ham said. The investigation continued Sunday.

“They are in the process of ruling things out and obviously if it ends up being a criminal act, we will pursue a criminal investigation along with the police department,” Ham said.

The church suffered damage as a result of the fire, but Ham said it didn’t effect the entire structure.

”The church is still standing and will survive the fire. It’ll need some internal restoration but the fire did not destroy the church,” he said.

Firefighters were able to contain the fire to one area of the building, keeping it away from the church’s sanctuary, he said.

Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call the TIPS Hotline at 816-474-TIPS (8477).

Editors note: A previous version of this story said the church had been vacant for some time. The church serves as the gathering place for the United Christian Fellowship. The congregation is mostly from the South Sudan.

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