Anti-arson campaign highlights Monticello church fire - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Anti-arson campaign highlights Monticello church fire

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The State Fire Marshal's Office is highlighting an Eastern Iowa church fire as part of their Arson Awareness week campaign.

In 2008, flames tore through First Presbyterian in Monticello. The pictures of the ruined sanctuary still bring it all back for pastor Al Polito.

"There was a lot of smoke damage," he said.

No one was hurt or killed in the fire, though the damage forced them out of the space for more than a year. In that time, the congregation met in other churches -- Polito likes to say that the building was burned, but not his church.

"It's just stuff," he said. "You can always re-do the building."

Still, finding out that investigators were treating it as an arson worried neighbors.

"It's like, my God, it's coming to Monticello," said Linda Varner. "Just, why?"

To date, no arrests have been made.

"A house of God, who would do something like that?" said Don Ehrisman.

It's unsolved cases like this that have State investigators offering training courses on identifying arson, which causes millions a years in damages to U.S. properties, and claims hundreds of lives. A release for the State Fire Marshal said they also use three dogs to help detect accelerants. One of these teams works out of Cedar Rapids.

"Arson is a cowardly crime and often difficult to prosecute without solid investigative tools and well-trained investigators," said U.S. Attorney Kevin Techau.

To combat this, officials are offering additional training to week to combat the crime.

Polito said he hopes it can be used to solve their case, because while the church has been repaired, it's the remaining danger that concerns him.

"Not having it solved makes me worry they may try another time," he said. "Someone could get hurt next time."

Officials say tips are one of their greatest weapons in solving arson cases. Anyone with information about the Monticello case or any other is encouraged to call the State Fire Marshal's Officce at 515-725-6145.

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