PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Newly released video in an arson investigation shows a person getting out of a car and throwing what appears to be some type of firebomb at an old church in Battle Ground.
The Clark County Fire Marshal’s Office has asked for the public’s help in identifying the suspect and the vehicle that were seen on security footage — which was recorded just before the Old Cherry Grove Church and a nearby home burned down in early July.
A $10,000 reward fund is available for anyone able to provide information that leads to a conviction in the case. Anyone with information or more video footage is urged to contact the county’s Fire Marshal Office at 564.397.3320.
The old church and house in unincorporated Clark County were destroyed in what is believed to be a human-caused fire on July 5. According to Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue, crews responded to reports of a fire around 2:30 a.m. that morning.
A neighbor across the street heard an explosion before looking outside and seeing the property — reportedly known for its clutter — was suddenly ablaze.
Steve Slocum, who lived in the old church with his sister, his nephew and his family, could only watch what unfolded after they heard a loud bang around 2:30 a.m.
“You know, kinda didn’t think much of it. Startled me,” Slocum told KOIN 6 News. “I went in the house and sat down on the couch. A couple of minutes later, Nick comes running in and says, ‘Call 911. The church is on fire.”
Slocum said he tried using a fire extinguisher but the flames were too big, engulfing the 1910 church and the parsonage.
The second story of the church and the steeple were both fully engulfed by flames within minutes. Meanwhile, the fire was growing threateningly close to the house next door. Although firefighters tried to make an interior attack, the intensity of the flames and heat made it impossible.
His neighbor had the surveillance video of someone starting the fire.
“A car coming by and then coming back by and stopping, jumping out,” he said. “And you can see a person lighting it, chucking it over and it blowing up.”
CCFR says extreme clutter in and around the church made their task even more difficult. Hundreds of mannequins were reportedly posed throughout the property. Fire Chief John Nohr said those mannequins and other items kept the crews from getting through the area and being able to stretch hose lines.
Steve bought the buildings 7 years ago from a man who ran it as an astronomy store. It became more of a local attraction when Slocum began creating mannequin displays.
“All those years where I had to be a normal person in society, I just decided, you know, hey, I’m going to be a little bit weird,” he told KOIN 6 News.
It’s those displays that made it difficult for firefighters to do their jobs.