Sunday, December 14, 2008
ANCHORAGE, Dec. 13 -- Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's home church was badly damaged by arson, leading the governor to apologize Saturday if the fire was connected to "undeserved negative attention" from her campaign as the Republican vice presidential nominee.
Damage to the Wasilla Bible Church was estimated at $1 million, authorities said. No one was injured in the fire, which was set Friday night while a handful of people, including two children, were inside, according to James Steele, the Central Mat-Su fire chief.
He said the blaze was being investigated as an arson. Steele said he didn't know of any recent threats to the church, and authorities did not know whether Palin's connection to the church was relevant to the fire.
"It's hard to say at this point. Everything is just speculation," he said.
Pastor Larry Kroon declined to say whether the church had received any recent threats.
Palin was not at the church at the time of the fire. She stopped by Saturday, and her spokesman Bill McAllister said in a statement that the governor told an assistant pastor she was sorry if the fire was connected to the "undeserved negative attention" the church has received since she became the vice presidential candidate Aug. 29.
"Whatever the motives of the arsonist, the governor has faith in the scriptural passage that what was intended for evil will in some way be used for good," McAllister said.
The 1,000-member evangelical church was the subject of intense scrutiny after Palin was named Sen. John McCain's running mate. Early in Palin's campaign, the church was criticized for promoting in a Sunday bulletin a Love Won Out conference in Anchorage sponsored by Focus on the Family. The conference promised to "help men and women dissatisfied with living homosexually understand that same-sex attractions can be overcome."
The fire was set at the entrance of the church and moved inward as a small group of women worked on crafts, Steele said. The group was alerted to the blaze by a fire alarm.