Boys playing with fire burn down church

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ALTOONA, Pa. -- Two teenage boys playing with a candle lighter caused a fire that destroyed a church and caused $2.7 million in damage, police said.

The boys, 13 and 14, were charged with arson and related crimes in the May 6 fire at the Altoona Alliance Church.

The boys ignited some cotton balls on a display board in a Sunday school room, Logan Township police Chief Ron Heller said yesterday. The boys stomped on the cotton to put out the fire, then opened a window to get rid of the smoke as they hid the poster board behind a cabinet.

The board reignited and the fire spread, fueled by aerosol cans and other flammable craft supplies in the building. Chief Heller called the fire, which caused the roof to collapse, "a very unfortunate accident."

The boys, who were charged as juveniles, told police a couple of days after the fire that they may have started it.

Juvenile court officials will meet with the boys next week to prepare their case for court in August. The boys could be sent to a program for child fire-starters run by the Altoona Fire Department, sent to a diagnostic center for evaluation or placed on probation.

The church's pastor, the Rev. Tim McGarvey, declined comment on the arson charges.

The church, which has about 75 families, plans to rebuild, but may move to another site first, the Rev. McGarvey said.


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