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Early morning blaze guts Central Methodist Church

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Date Sunday December 14, 1969

Arson Probe Requested By Officials

A fire which raged out of control for more than four hours Sunday morning virtually destroyed the interior of the Central Methodist Church. There were no injuries in the fire.

The blaze was first spotted by a police patrol around 4:20 a.m. and within minutes some 40 fire fighters from the Fayetteville Fire Department responded to the scene at Dickson Street and Highland Avenue. The fire was finally extinguished around 1p.m.

Three engine companies and a snorkel company responded to the alarm, and went into action immediately and stayed on the job for almost nine hours.

Full extent of the loss, partially covered by insurance, cannot be determined pending an engineering study. However, it appeared that the dollar loss might reach or exceed $600,000.

The cause of the fire remains undetermined this morning, but Fire Chief Burl Skelton said that the state Fire Marshall in Little Rock has been requested to assist in an investigation to determine if arson was involved.

Standard Procedure

"It is standard procedure to call in state authorities in the investigation of any fire which might involve arson," explained Skelton. The fire chief said that the fire apparently started in the northwest portion of the building and spread quickly to the sanctuary. He said that at one point, firemen appeared to have the blaze under control but that flames blazed up in the south end of the sanctuary and raged out of control again.

Damage was contained to the interior of the building and few signs of a major fire are visible from the exterior of the church, which faces south on Dickson.

Dr. Joel A. Cooper, pastor of the church, said today he has already met with the board of directors and that it has been decided to rebuild the sanctuary of the 16 year-old building. He stressed that a rebuilding program will probably take at least a year to complete. Dr. Cooper said that worship services for the 2,100 parishioners who attend Central Methodist will be held in Fellowship Hall, one of several buildings located on the church grounds. None of the buildings, other than the sanctuary were damaged in the fire.

Loss Heavy
An estimate as to the exact amount of damage done to the interior of the building will not be available for some time, according to Dr. Cooper. However, a spokesman for the architectural firm which designed the building pointed out that the structure cost approximately $300,000 when constructed in 1953. The spokesman stressed that if the entire building were reconstructed at the present time, costs could easily double the original price.

The fire was the third in a series of major fires which has plagued the Fayetteville area in the past two months. Hill Hall, which housed the journalism department on the University of Arkansas campus, was severely damaged Nov. 11, and the meat processing building on the University Farm was destroyed Nov. 28.
(N. W. Ark. Times Monday, December 15, 1969).