Blaze hits church fireworks booth in Merced; arson suspected

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comJuly 8, 2013 

THADDEUS MILLER/tmiller@mercedsun-star.com Volunteerswork inside the Calvary Temple Pentecostal Church fireworks booth Wednesday, July 3, 2013, where an arsonist set fire to the booth on Highway 59 early that morning. Volunteers put up the sign some time after the fire.

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— After a robbery a year ago, a church's fireworks booth on Highway 59 in Merced was targeted again — this time by an apparent arsonist.

Merced Fire Chief Mike McLaughlin said the fire set at Calvary Temple Pentecostal Church's booth, 2740 N. Highway 59, remains under investigation but showed definite signs of arson. "There was significant evidence the fire was intentionally set," he said.

A passer-by reported the fire about 5:21 a.m. Tuesday. The fire was out before firefighters reached the scene, McLaughlin said.

Youth pastor Nathan Allen, 24, said the smell of gasoline was obvious when he arrived at the church parking lot, where the booth sits. Allen was one of three volunteers robbed at gunpoint while in the booth on July 3 last year.

Allen said he remains undeterred.

"It only encourages our resolve," he said, adding that the fund-raiser is primarily intended to send children to church camp. "No attack, nobody with ill intent, is going to stop us from doing that."

The blaze charred a couple of wooden boards on the booth's front side, and embers melted a piece of the plastic flag that runs along the bottom of the structure. The fireworks were inside a metal storage container where they're required to be kept during the night for fire safety reasons.

Volunteers placed a sign that read "SATANS FAILURE" near the charred boards. Volunteers said they created the sign to show their resolve.

Allen said he doesn't know of any enemies of his church. "I can't imagine why there would be anybody who would ever want to harm the church," he said.

On July 3, 2012, two men pointed a shotgun at Allen and two volunteers. The robbers took money and fireworks from the booth and left the scene.

After last year's incident, Allen said, a number of area businesses and organizations donated to the church camp fund.

McLaughlin said Merced Fire Department will lead the investigation into the incident.

He said that the state fire marshal's office and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will be notified because the fire involved a fireworks booth and was on church property.

Reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or by email at tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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