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TUESDAY, JULY 31, 2007
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Fire damages Jasper church

JASPER (AP) — State investigators arrived Monday to begin investigating a fire that heavily damaged a small church that was nearly 70 years old.

The Rev. Anthony Gilbreath, pastor of Zion United Methodist Church, said he was returning home from a meeting about 7 p.m. Sunday when he saw the building ablaze.

"I was coming up to the building, and I saw flames coming out of the whirlybirds on top of the building," he said. "It was already badly smoking."

Residents of a nearby neighborhood watched as the church burned. Some were in tears.

Gilbreath, who said the building was insured, speculated that lightning could have been the cause since a thunderstorm moved through the area in the early afternoon. "It would have taken that long" for fire and smoke to have made its way to be seen outside the church, he said.

No one was inside the building when the fire began, and no injuries were reported.

Ragan Ingram, a spokesman with the state fire marshal's office, said Monday that state authorities were on the scene but had not determined the cause of the blaze.

Ann Davis, a longtime member, wasn't surprised that the church caught fire.

"The building is old. The wiring is old. But it's still our church home," she told the Daily Mountain Eagle.

The church was constructed in 1939. Statistics from the denomination show the church averaged about 50 people in Sunday attendance last year.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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