Waco FD investigates rash of fires that destroyed house, damaged church


Three suspicious fires, including one that destroyed a 114-year-old home and another that damaged a church, have neighbors concerned that the blazes were intentionally set.


The three fires remain under investigation and no cause has been determined for any of them, Waco Fire Marshal Kevin Vranich said Monday.

“All fires are suspicious, when you get right down to it, until you determine what happened,” Vranich said. “I don’t have an accidental cause, but I haven’t ruled out an accidental cause right now, either. It’s still so early in our investigation.”

A vacant home at 1805 Morrow Ave. was destroyed in a fire at 7:15 p.m. Sunday that was called in by the owners, Richard and Vicky Weathers, who live next door.

Then just before midnight, firefighters were called to the Hope Fellowship Church, 1721 Sanger Ave., where the side of the two-story building was on fire, Vranich said.

The fire spread up the side of the church toward the back and damaged the nursery, the kitchen and a section of the roof, causing an estimated $8,000 in damages, Vranich said.

While they were fighting the church blaze, officials spotted what Vranich called a rubbish fire behind commercial buildings at 525 N. 18th St. Blankets and possibly sleeping bags that appeared to be stored behind the building were damaged in that fire, Vranich said.

While Vranich was not prepared Monday to call the fires arson, Vicky Weathers and her neighbor, Phillip Bridgewater, said they are convinced the house and church were burned intentionally.

“We have to find the person who did this,” she said. “This home was not occupied, but what happens next time?”

Bridgewater, who was helping John Alexander repair the church Monday morning, said he wants the close-knit group of neighbors that forms the Sanger-Heights Neighborhood Association to meet soon with police and fire officials to discuss how best to protect its residents.

“This concerns all of us,” said Bridgewater, who said he was lucky that flames from Weathers’ home did not spread to his home or to the carriage house behind it.

The trio of fires were the fourth time in 2014 that Waco Fire Department chased groupings of blazes overnight that seemed suspicious or occurred in locations where there was no electricity or natural ignition source.

On Oct. 16, the fire department responded overnight to three Dumpster fires and two trash pile fires.

On Oct. 27, the department responded to two brush fires and a mattress fire.

On Nov. 4, the department responded to three storage container or Dumpster fires and one car fire.

Weathers said her home was built in 1898 and the home that burned was built in 1900. It was valued on tax rolls at $60,000, she said. She and her husband used it at times as an office and for storage.

She said the home will be demolished.

“At least now I can wave out the window at my neighbor,” she said, referring to Bridgewater.

Weathers said she and her husband were watching TV when they heard a “boom” sound.

Her husband thought someone had hit their cars parked in the street, but he saw flames coming from the front porch of their home next door when he went out to investigate.

Vicky Weathers said the flames spread quickly. Fire officials said the home was fully engulfed when they arrived.

The grouping of fires in such close proximity made Weathers and Bridgewater remember the October 2008 arson fire that destroyed the century-old Sanger Avenue Elementary School across the street from the church.