Second fire at Midland-area church ruled arson

Staff writerFebruary 12, 2014 

Firefighters pour water onto the fire at Golgotha Baptist Church near Tacoma.

DEAN J. KOEPFLER — Staff photographer

A fire that destroyed a Midland-area church for the second time in five months has been ruled arson, according to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.

The Golgotha Moldavian Baptist Church burned Monday morning and suffered extensive damage because the building was so unstable from an earlier blaze that firefighters couldn’t get inside to douse flames.

It took about three hours and 75,000 gallons of water to extinguish Monday's fire at 1611 85th St. E.

Central Pierce Fire & Rescue spokesman Ed Hrivnak said Wednesday the investigation had been turned over to the sheriff’s department.

“We believe the fire was intentionally set,” sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said, declining to discuss specifics because it’s an open investigation.

The Rev. Pavel Sandu, who leads the 300-member congregation, could not immediately be reached for comment. He said Monday that the church planned to rebuild and forgive whoever started the fire.

No suspects have been named.

Joshua Joseph Toves, the man charged with setting a fire at the church in September, remains in custody and is awaiting a competency hearing before he can stand trial in that case.

He told detectives he set paper, plastic and a picture frame ablaze after breaking into the church but gave no reason why, according to court documents.

Golgotha’s congregation had not yet started rebuilding because they were waiting for the insurance to be sorted out. Damages from September’s blaze were estimated to be $1 million. A damage estimate from Monday’s fire has not yet been released.

Firefighters returned to the scene Tuesday to ensure no embers posed a safety risk and found a man rummaging through the rubble inside the building.

The crew identified themselves as firefighters, called police and ordered the man to stay where he was. The man ran.

One of the firefighters "chased him 200 yards, tackled him and held him” until law enforcement arrived, Hrivnak said.

The man was arrested on suspicion of burglary. It’s unclear what items he was trying to steal but investigators have said they do not believe he was involved with burning down the church.

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