SOUTH SALT LAKE — Three suspicious fires early Saturday caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to two LDS Church buildings and an uninhabited home.
The first and most devastating fire was reported at about 3:30 a.m. at an LDS meetinghouse at 3219 S. 300 East. South Salt Lake Fire Battalion Chief Terry Addison said a brick was found thrown through a window in the chapel, where the fire began. "Right now it's looking like it is a suspicious fire."
About 30 firefighters responded to the two-alarm fire, which Addison said caused at least $300,000 to $400,000 in damage.
"The damage is pretty extensive. The chapel in the church is destroyed quite heavily," he said. "We have smoke and water damage throughout the rest of the structure."
The second fire was reported at 6:48 a.m. at an LDS Church building at 2702 S. Main. South Salt Lake police confirmed there was forced entry at that building as well. The damage is primarily from smoke and water, and the building's three wards will meet elsewhere for services Sunday.
"Right now, they all appear to be arson. And they are suspicious in nature," said Gary Keller with South Salt Lake police. "It's premature to say that they would all be connected."
David Moore, president of the Salt Lake Granite Stake, presides over the two wards that meet in the building where the first fire broke out. Moore said about 450 people meet at the church each Sunday.
He said local church leaders are hopeful they'll be able to repair the structure. "We're grateful it appears the building is structurally sound," he said.
Kim Hibbert is a service missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was taking photos of the damage at the church Saturday afternoon. He and his wife serve in the Granite Spanish Branch that meets at the chapel. Their mission ends in January, and he said it's unlikely they'll be back in the building before their mission is up. "That means we're not coming back here, and that's sad," Hibbert said.
Hibbert was on his way to the nearby stake center for two baptisms taking place early Saturday when he saw the flames.
"The services weren't quite as happy as normal," he said.
David Young, president of the South Salt Lake Stake said three congregations meet at the building at 2702 S. Main. In addition to Sunday services being held elsewhere, a handful of activities Saturday were rescheduled or canceled. Two wards moved Trunk-or-Treat activities to the LDS stake center up the street.
"Those are easy things," Young said. "The largest issue, of course, is cleaning the building."
Young said members and leaders are troubled by the arson, which will displace about 700 members in his stake. "I'm saddened that anyone would feel that they would need to set a building of worship afire," he said. "It's a deep concern."
Arson has been suspected in fires at LDS church buildings elsewhere. An LDS church building in Mukilteo, Wash., was destroyed by arsonists two weeks ago.
The third South Salt Lake fire was reported at 7:12 a.m. in a vacant home at 2983 S. 500 East.
Local investigators are trying to determine exactly how the fires started and hope someone will come forward with information related to the cases. Individuals with information are asked to call the South Salt Lake police at 801-840-4000.
South Salt Lake police and fire officials said they remain on "high alert" after Saturday's fires.
Hibbert, the service missionary, said he hopes the person or people who set the fires are able to work out whatever issues they have.
"I just feel sorry for whoever is responsible," he said. "Life goes on. We're all going to go to another building and feel the spirit maybe even more strongly tomorrow."