Blaze destroys South Bay church

The Associated Press
Tuesday April 09, 2002

LOS ALTOS HILLS — Federal and county officials are investigating the cause of a fire that gutted a church with a large Middle Eastern congregation, forcing churchgoers to pray for peace in the street. 

A team from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was brought in Sunday to examine cause of the three-alarm fire that destroyed the Antiochian Orthodox Church of the Redeemer. A passerby reported the fire to authorities just after 4:30 a.m. that day. 

Santa Clara County Fire Department spokesman Steve Gubber said the federal government’s presence is standard procedure for all church fires. The team includes a sniffing dog specially trained to detect fire accelerants, such as gasoline and chemicals to determine whether arson was the cause. 

The Reverend Samer Youssef said the church had not received any threats. The congregation worshiped at Cupertino’s St. Steven’s Antiochian Orthodox Church. Parishoners later stood outside the lost church to pray and hold a candlelight vigil 

“This is a house of god, and someone who’d want to set fire to a house of god — what kind of a person is that?” Youssef said. 

It took about 55 firefighters more than two hours to contain the fire, Gubber said. No one was inside the building, and no injuries were reported. The fire engulfed the church and later caused its roof to collapse, which will make it difficult for investigators to determine the cause, he said. 

The church did not have a sprinkler system and investigators believe the smoke alarm was not activated at the time the fire erupted.