Arson ruled out in New Beginnings Church blaze

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By John Severance

There have been a lot of theories about the cause of the fire that heavily damaged New Beginnings Church July 4.


Was it electrical? Was it arson?

Tuesday, New Beginnings Church pastor Shawn Amburgey finally found out the cause.

It was electrical.

Amburgey had just met with Sammy Anaya from the investigations unit of the State Fire Marshal’s office when the investigator's findings were released.

When asked what Anaya said, Amburgey said “the test results came back negative for accelerants and that it was an accidental incident by electrical failure.”

Los Alamos fire chief Troy Hughes also talked to Anaya and confirmed the findings.

“It apparently started in an outlet near the stage area,” Hughes said.  

It has been nearly six weeks since the fire and investigators pored through a mountain of burn evidence.

"It just took a while to get the results back," Hughes said. "Usually with a flammable liquid, that can be found out rather quickly. But with this, they used microscopes and x-rays and all of that takes time. The investigators did a tremendous job and everybody wanted an answer quickly. I know I was getting a little impatient waiting to find out the results."

The State Fire Marshal was the lead investigator in determining the cause. Also called in were investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The theories abounded when the ATF was called in. That organization is called in when places of worship catch fire and if there is a possibility of arson.

Public Regulation Commission Public Information Officer Arthur Bishop, who also handles the fire marshal’s office, also confirmed the cause.

“I just talked to the investigators and they said it was electrical,” Bishop said. “The fire was caused by an out-of-date electrical system. There was no evidence of foul play or the use of accelerants to start the fire. We have no suspicions with the evidence we have to rule otherwise.”

Amburgey said he was relieved to hear about the findings and admitted it has been a stressful time since the fire.

“It has been stressful and there were no real suspects and I was the prime suspect by default,” Amburgey said. “Knowing I was innocent, it was still nerve-wracking because sometimes things can be read into and then they are misread. You never know what kind of evidence is out there.”

Amburgey said he was interviewed multiple times by the authorities.

The pastor said he is not sure about what is going to happen to the chapel area that was extensively burned in the fire. The auditorium area received major smoke damage and renovations are ongoing, Amburgey said.

Amburgey said they are still conducting services at the Christian Church next door.

The fire began in the morning of July 4. It was Amburgey’s mother-in-law and daughter, who discovered the fire. They quickly notified Amburgey, who then called 911.

 “I had no idea where it started,” Amburgey said last month “I just saw the smoke coming down the hallway.”

 The Los Alamos Fire Department, which has a station just across the street, was there in a minute. Other LAFD units rolled in and the Los Alamos Police Department was there to monitor the traffic and help in the investigation. The state fire marshal was called in and eventually so was the ATF.