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Church fire still under investigation

Andrew Pridgen
Appeal Staff Writer
Amy Lisenbe/Nevada Appeal Connected Church of the Nazarene lead pastor J.J. Tuttle reads scripture to worshippers at the first service following the fire that destroyed the church's sanctuary in early December last year in this file photo.
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The Connected Church of the Nazarene and its 200-plus parishioners have found a new “temporary/permanent” home since its building was destroyed in a Dec. 2 blaze, but efforts to identify who started the fire are as yet inconclusive.

Reconstruction of the building on the 900 block of Mallory Way continues. Its tenants besides the church – including an exercise and movement center and a custom-car garage – have moved on and re-opened their doors elsewhere in town.

For the last month, the church congregation has met at 2814 North Carson St., former home of Urban Trends Furniture, where they expect to stay for the next year, said lead pastor J.J. Tuttle. Before that, it was holding services in a tent located at the gutted warehouse building’s parking lot, then at The Seventh Day Adventist Church on College Parkway, the use of which was donated by that church.

“Yep, we’ve been told that it’s going to be 10 to 12 months before we can move back in (to the burned-out building),” Tuttle said. “We just have really gotten a lot of help from the community and other churches to be able to keep going.

“But it’s going to be a long process.”

The investigation of the fire seems to be similarly moving slowly.

Shortly after the first of the year, investigators – including members of the Carson City Sheriff’s Office, the Carson City Fire Department and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – began exploring the possibility that the fire was started by an arsonist or arsonists.

A red plastic butane lighter discovered in the wreckage is the only lead so far, investigators said. The lighter was found near a burnt box, which appeared to have acted as fuel for one of the five ignition points the alleged arsonist or arsonists used, fire investigators said.

But that’s just about as much information as the investigators have, fire chief Stacey Giomi said this week.

“As long as there’s an open investigation -our work is essentially done,” he said. “It’s now in the hands of the sheriff’s department until they find a suspect that we can question.

Giomi reported this week that he’s not heard of any new leads from the sheriff’s office.

The building, which sustained damages close to $1 million, also had a litany of other problems prior to the fire, including asbestos and faulty wiring, pastor Tuttle said.

Connected’s comprehensive insurance will cover all retrofits, he said.

Tuttle denied rumors that the church forced its tenants to re-up for a more comprehensive insurance policy just months prior the blaze.

“We were actually thinking of taking some of our coverage away at the time of the fire,” he said. “Our insurance provider is awesome. The code violations are being worked on and paid for.”

Some former tenants of the Connected building, which the church has owned since 2006, said they haven’t been so fortunate.

Tamara Holmes, who owns Positive Energy, a business which teaches exercise and movement classes – said she spent two months getting back on her feet post-fire; in that time she estimates a loss of more than $15,000 in revenue.

“When the fire happened, I thought, well – this is it, this is a sign,” she said. “Fortunately, we’re a well-known and well-liked business. And people kept coming to me and bugging me and asking when I was going to re-open.”

After the first of the year, Holmes signed a lease with the owners of Positive Karate USA, whose building is located on Research Way in North Carson.

“I guess with the names being (similar) it was meant to be,” she said.

While Holmes said she didn’t want to comment on specifics about her relationship with the church as a tenant in the time leading up to the fire, she did say she was “relieved” to move on.

“As far as the Connected Church being a landlord – yikes!” she said. “I was just a neighbor there, until they took over the building. When Pastor Steve Pollard was there, it was fantastic. But the administration changed and there was more of a strained relationship.”

Former tenant Eric Bevans, owner of Dr. Smash Fabrication in Carson City, a welding outfit which custom fabricates everything from bicycles to off-road vehicles, was verbose about his cut ties with the church.

Bevans said the fire’s aftermath exacerbated his already tenuous relationship with the church/landlord.

“After the fire they turned off the power,” he said in late-February. “They never gave me correspondence. The only correspondence was three weeks ago that 60 days was up since the end of the fire.

“I was like, pfft – where’s the official correspondence that says I’m going to have to move because you don’t intend to have me back?”

Bevans said he didn’t want his comments to sound like “typical” sour grapes, and notes he keeps in touch with other ex-tenants and they “support each other.”

Dr. Smash moved into its new location on Highway 50 in January next to new landlord Vintage Class Motors. Bevans said having a landlord with similar clientele has made a world of difference.