Church arson shock

Church arson shock

AN arsonist came within minutes of burning down one of Ocean Grove’s most significant heritage buildings last week.
A deliberately lit fire caused about $10,000 worth of damage to the 125 year old weatherboard Uniting Church building just before 11pm on Wednesday night.
Fortunately a local driver spotted the flames at the front of the church on the corner of the Parade and Eggleston St and alerted fire crews from Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads. They had the fire under control in about half an hour.
esponse from the CFA, weather board panels were burnt through and flames were already licking the inside of the back church door, just millimetres from carpet and catastrophic consequences.
Church secretary Dianne Sapwell said the local community had shared in the shock at the attack, which was the first of any kind of vandalism she could recall happening at the church.
“We’ve been really surprised at how many people have been amazed that something like this could happen to a church that has always been open to the community, especially since we’ve had the opportunity shop.
“We had the church open all last week for people to come in and reflect on the MH17 (aircraft crash) tragedy. We do a lot of things for social justice issues and everything like that, we don’t tend to class ourselves a closed church.
“People have been offering condolences – but also thanks -giving that it was able to be saved when it was. Because a lot of people, I think, really relate to this church as being one icon left of old Ocean Grove.”
Fortunately the church was insured and assessors were due to inspect the damage on Monday.
“We are totally aware - because of it being weatherboard – that we have to have insurance. But we’d never replace that (pointing to the inside of the authentic 19th century church hall). We’d have to end up with something that was modern.
“I think (this building) has great importance. But this is still here. Thankfully.”
To add to the luck of the save, Dianne said the man who alerted the fire brigade normally goes home another route. She said he had initially spotted what he thought were a lot of lights on late in the evening before realising that it was in fact flames.
Dianne said that the church had subsequently presented the man with a bottle of wine and a card to say thank you for “saving what they had”.
Police attended the scene and Geelong’s Criminal Investigations Unit is handling the matter.
THE arson attack at the Uniting Church on Wednesday night was the second of two separate incidents that hit Ocean Grove last week.
On the Monday night before the Uniting Church incident an unoccupied holiday rental along Marlin Drive in Ocean Grove was also deliberately set alight.
Geelong CIU Senior Detective Bruce Dunlop said flames were seen by neighbours on the front door of the property just after 10pm.
“We were lucky to extinguish the fire just before the whole house set alight,” Ocean Grove CFA Officer in Charge Ian Beswicke explained.
Police are seeking any information from people who may have witnessed either of the incidents.
Contact Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000 or Bruce Dunlop at Geelong Police on 5225 3100.

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