The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest of whomever was responsible for a fire that destroyed a vacant church Wednesday.
Wichita fire marshal Brad Crisp said investigators found evidence that people had been in the building — located at 1504 N. St. Francis in Wichita — but don’t know whether the fire was accidental or intentionally set. Someone, possibly homeless people, had been using the former church to keep warm overnight for some time, Crisp said.
The church suffered about $50,000 in structural damages.
There were no signs of forced entry. Utilities were not turned on at the address.
“Investigators believe that the fire was the result of a human act,” Crisp said.
“This was a vacant building in an area that isn’t heavily traveled at that time of night,” he said. “We want to talk to people who may have seen anything, especially in the early stages of the fire, perhaps even before the fire was reported.”
The fire happened just before 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. Shortly after fire crews arrived, the north end of the building collapsed. About 25 minutes later, the roof caved in, Crisp said Thursday. Dangerous conditions prevented firefighters from conducting a thorough search of the building Wednesday night.
The ATF and investigators wrapped up a ground-level and basement search for fire victims around 3 p.m. Thursday. No injuries were reported.
Lab analysis of fire debris should be completed next week, Crisp said.
Anyone with information about the fire can call the ATF at 888-ATF-FIRE or 316-269-6229. Callers can also contact the Wichita Fire Department at 316-377-9146.