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Blaze guts chapel

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Fire: Authorities say it could be a total loss

By John Severance

It took close to three hours Wednesday but the Los Alamos Fire Department extinguished a major fire at New Beginnings Fellowship Assembly of God Church at 112 East Road.

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Deputy Chief Justin Grider confirmed the fire was out around 1 p.m. It looked as if the fire was out earlier but LAFD was contending with hotspots in the rafters of the chapel.

Grider said the chapel is a total loss. The main church received smoke damage. There also was an area in the back of the church that burned and received significant smoke damage.

“We think the fire started in the chapel,” Grider said. “But we don’t know for sure. It is still under investigation.”
Grider said there were a couple of investigators on the scene, including the State Fire Marshal.

“We are checking the structural integrity so it’s safe enough for the investigators to check out what happened,” Grider said.

Grider added this morning investigators worked until dark Wednesday and resumed work this morning at 9:30. “They go from end of the church to the other,” he said. “It’s a very tedious process.”

Grider expects the investigation to take a couple of days because it is a church or a house of worship. “We have to check everything.”

The original 911 call was made at 10:22 a.m. and LAFD was on the scene a minute later since one of its stations is right across the street.

Grider said the fire spread to the hallway separating the church and the chapel and “that is where we made the stop.”
If the fire had gotten into the church and into the rafters and the floor boards, “it would have been a different story. There was a lot of heat. There was some darn good firefighting and they knocked it out of the (park).”

Pastor Shawn Amburgey, who has a house on the property, made the 911 call after getting a phone call from his mother-in-law, who saw the fire.

“We are looking at it and trying to get to the bottom of what happened,” Amburgey said this morning. “They are looking to see if the cause of the fire was electrical or if there was a potential break-in.”

Amburgey said the church has been broken into twice in the past year. The pastor added that the building where the fire started was built in the 1940s.

Some of the LAFD and LAPD personnel, meanwhile, were in White Rock, taking part in a softball game.
Grider was in White Rock but was talking to food vendors and handing out permits to get their grills going as they got ready for the Fourth of July celebration at Overlook Park.

Grider heard about the blaze and raced up N.M. 502 from White Rock and he saw the plume of smoke.

“I said to myself, they really have a cooker there,” Grider said.

Soon, fire chief Troy Hughes was on the scene as was LAPD captain Randy Foster. Both were wearing their softball gear.

Grider said there were no injuries and everybody was out safely following the initial investigation.

Despite the multitude of LAPD and LAFD vehicles on the scene, traffic was open in both directions on East Road. LAPD was monitoring traffic flow.

Grider said historically in fires like this, “It’s a firefighter killer. There are vast open spaces that are hard to contain. Our guys did a great job keeping the fire contained.”

It looked as if the fire was out in the chapel after about 30 minutes.

But it wasn’t.

Crews got on ladders and opened the roof and the side of the structure and smoke began billowing out.
One firefighter said, “It totally flamed up again.”

Crews, though, trained their hoses on the blaze and soon it was out. But they were still on the scene, looking for hotspots.

As crews were beginning to wrap it up, a man in a white jacket carried a tray of watermelon to the firefighters.
Grider said, in all, there were 24 LAFD personnel fighting the blaze.

Grider reported one minor injury where a firefighter was hit in the shin by a hose coupling. “Those things weigh 20 to 30 pounds and they are made of aluminum. This one fell off the truck and hit him the shin. He went to the hospital as a precaution and was treated and released. I think his ankle was bruised.”

This morning, a LAPD vehicle was parked in front of the church and the chapel area was boarded up.
Foster said LAPD is now playing a dual role.

“First off, we are securing it so no one gets in,” Foster said. “Second, until we find out from the Fire Marshal, we have to find out if there is going to be a criminal investigation or if it’s just an electrical fire. If it is a criminal investigation, we have to secure all the evidence. Basically, though, we just don’t want anybody going in there and getting hurt.”

Shelley Chase, a member of the church, said on her Facebook post: “Let me just tell you a few things about us.  We are Strong, United, Full of Faith, Positive, Loving, Caring, Passionate, Dreamers, Accepting, and most of all we are FAMILY!! New Beginnings Fellowship will be Stronger than ever!!!!”

According to its website, NBF has three primary components that encompass all ministries: Evangelism, Discipleship, and Community Involvement.

There are six main ministries: Men, Women, Children, Youth, Young Adult, and Senior Adult.

These ministries focus on four key elements that make up our core: Worship, Prayer, Teaching, and Fellowship.