LDS church fire in downtown St. George being treated as ‘criminal investigation’

ST. GEORGE — Police are investigating a devastating fire in downtown St. George Saturday as a crime after the blaze destroyed a chapel built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A nearly-completed chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints located just east of the St. George LDS Temple was destroyed by a fire early Saturday, St. George, Utah, Jan. 26, 2019 | Photo By Mori Kessler, St. George News

The fire was originally reported at around 1:15 a.m. at the nearly completed Stake Center in the area of 300 East and 400 South. The fire spread from one end of the building to the other, and the roof and ceiling eventually caved in. Fire crews spent hours mounting a defensive attack from outside of the building before it finally died down.

See time-lapse video courtesy of Bloomington FM Group at the top of this report.

“We are treating it as a crime right now,” St. George Police officer Tiffany Atkin said of the cause of the fire during a press conference Saturday afternoon.

She said the fire started at the exterior of the building where there’s no source of heat or electricity, which indicates it was likely set intentionally.

Detection dogs sniffing the scene also found evidence of accelerant in two areas around the church.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Utah State Fire Marshal, St. George Fire Department and St. George Police are working together on the investigation.

Watch the entire press conference on St. George News’ Facebook live feed below.


St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker said security cameras on the temple grounds across the street indicated the fire may have been burning for an hour before it was reported.

The entire building was gutted by the flames and is considered a total loss, Stoker said.

Read more and see video of active flames: New LDS stake center near St. George Temple gutted by fire

Firemen were still on scene well into Saturday afternoon putting out remaining flames. The fire left a thick layer of smoke throughout downtown St. George that may linger through the day.

The new chapel had been built to replace an aging building that was torn down last year. Church officials on social media expressed shock at news of the blaze but said they would work through this “bump in the road.”

Anyone with information on the fire is asked to contact St. George Police at 435-627-4300.

St. George News reporters Mori Kessler and Joseph Witham contributed to this report.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

Email: mheckenliable@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @markeekaenews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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14 Comments

  • iceplant January 26, 2019 at 5:08 pm

    I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what your beef is with the LDS church, you do not burn down a chapel. Whoever did this will be caught and I hope they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Burning down churches is medieval and totally unacceptable in a modern age. This is sad.

  • Nathan January 26, 2019 at 5:59 pm

    Sad when people have to destroy property, or things that belong to others just for thrills or to vent anger, or because of personal insecurities.

  • Danton January 26, 2019 at 7:37 pm

    ide look into disgruntled workers.plumbers.roofers…seems like competition isnt ruled out either…a subcontractor who didnt get the job..stuff like that would be as likely as any strange kud or person randomly being weird n setting fire to it

  • chris keele January 27, 2019 at 7:48 am

    It will be interesting to know, once we find out, who and why this senseless act was perpetrated on our beautiful,comparatively serene and decent community. I worry about some of those I read and hear about that continue to mindlessly spew their hateful anti L.D.S. rhetoric at every and any opportunity to do so, even when the subject matter has no relevancy to their hateful rants, when any psychopath that can read can be emboldened by this childish behavior I think it would be better to choose your words more wisely and think before you speak. And those charged with the responsibility of censoring what is allowed should maybe be a little more selective.

    • Real Life January 27, 2019 at 2:06 pm

      Yes, let’s censor all rhetoric that is deemed negative to any Mormon ideaology. Do you not see the irony? Look, whoever did this, if it was even hate driven, should be brought to justice and swiftly punished. That said, don’t expect all of us non LDS’ers to simply roll over like sick puppies and not speak up when your church meddles in politics and judges others negatively. Yes, Mormons are very, very judgemental. And that “serene and decent” community you speak of that is transforming before your very eyes? That change is being brought to you by mainly greedy Mormon land owners and developers.

      • Comment January 27, 2019 at 3:06 pm

        Completely true.

      • WellInformed13 January 28, 2019 at 10:10 am

        A couple objective points to be made here:

        1. I don’t believe censorship is an answer. There is too much of that in mainstream media, social media platforms, etc… and it does not benefit any cause or purpose. Most people are raised to show proper respect and to state their opinions at the right time. That’s not the case for everyone, but they shouldn’t be censored.

        2. I think the real irony is someone condemning judging when they themselves are judging. We have to be careful to point that finger. Remember three fingers are always pointing back. It invalidates your argument and diminishes your platform.

        3. Stating that “Mormon” landowners are mainly to blame for negative change is not a fact. Once again, your argument is invalidated since you make such a generalization without facts. It will take a little more time and effort on your part to provide facts, but over generalizations are way too easy. No more layups or free throws for you Real Life.

        Next time you comment, If you have specific facts, present them with less bias and more objectivity so the rest of us can learn from you. It’s easy to throw that rock from your glass house but one day that rock will slip and it might be your glass house that comes down.

        • Real Life January 29, 2019 at 9:27 am

          It’s one thing to be biased, it’s a whole different thing to just be observant. ?

    • tazzman January 27, 2019 at 3:04 pm

      People who have criticisms about specific actions and stances the LDS church has taken towards specific issues are in no way responsible for this act. The person(s) who actually committed the act are responsible. People criticizing an institution and committing arson and destruction of property are not even the same thing.

      Your call for curtailing speech before any motive is found is perhaps what needs to be chosen more wisely and selectively.

  • Comment January 27, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    it could have been:

    -teens
    -a severely mentally ill
    -an insurance fraud scheme
    -someone with a lot of malice toward the LDS organization, whether it be for personal or political reasons.

    How ’bout that guy that broke into the temple a few months back. I might go question him first thing…

  • Nobody January 27, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    Exactly, Real Life. I could not agree more. This is not ok by anyone’s standard. You do not burn down anybody’s property, especially a house of worship. Hope they find out who did this.
    However, that said…is it not funny how Chris uses this, to portray the Church as an “innocent” and “serene” establishment. Do you really think that the rest of us “normal” people are going to change our mind about the LDS church, simply because this happened? The church is judgemental and controls “everything” in this state. Those are undeniable “FACTS”. Stop trying to use this as an opportunity to put the pink goggles on people’s heads, it is not going to work. Nor will this news site suppress people’s opinions in favor of the Mormon church. Get a grip.

    • WellInformed13 January 28, 2019 at 10:43 am

      A couple points Nobody:

      1. I have read Chris’s comment and no where does he call the church “innocent” or “serene”. He uses that term expressly in relation to the community which, as you know, is comprised of various religions and people. So your statement is highly inaccurate which renders it null and void.

      2. Be careful to condemn judging when you yourself do a great job of judging the LDS church. You and Real Life must attend the same school of thought. This type of condemnation for a trait you expressly own, again invalidates your argument.

      3. You state the church controls “Everything” in this state. You are even so bold to state it’s an “undeniable” fact. Now the burden of proof is on you to state everything the church controls and how that’s undeniable. You have your work cut out for you.

      As a reader of your comments I can gather a few things. You, like Real Life, hide behind over generalizations. You label the church as judgmental, but you are doing the same thing. How are readers supposed to take you seriously if you write based on emotion and unsubstantiated opinions? Just like I told Real Life, no more layups or free throws. Exercise your thought process a little more objectively and you might be surprised by the outcome.

  • Nobody January 28, 2019 at 2:55 pm

    Wellinformed13, you make some good points, I will admit. My comment did come from a more emotional place. However, the response is not unfounded. You know as well as I do, that there is an element of truth to my comments. I’m assuming you are LDS. Ask anyone who is not LDS, if the church meddling in the general public’s affairs is a problem or not. I pretty much guarantee you, most will say it is a problem. As for the serene and innocent remark, the community is predominately Mormon, yes there are other religions, however they are not the majority. Therefore would you not agree, that the community and the Church are connected to some extent? The church controls many things in this state. “Everything” may not be accurate, fine you are correct. However, all things that the church deems as controversial to their ideology, they DO control. This is FACT. Since there are so many different types of religions in the area according to you, would it be fair then, that we are forced to comply with the LDS ideology? No it is not. It is called oppression. I do not know if the LDS people just don’t understand what the rest of us are are saying, or they do not care, or they deny the fact that this is going on. As for Judging people, you are correct as well, two wrongs do not make it right. However, sitting down and putting up with something that is a problem in our community and state is not acceptable either. From what I gather from you post, is you are attacking my character, in other words judging me as an individual, based on what you read. So you are really practicing what you preach? This is all too common in the church “do as I say, not as I do”. Carefully read your school of thought remark, are you not judging me and Real Life? Exactly, you are. You are assuming things by what you read, therefore you judge. Makes you no better than me, now does it? I may have over generalized, true. However there is plenty of truths in these generalizations, I do not need to hide behind them. There is plenty of proof: From the issue with excluding the gay community, to the prop 2 fiasco that happened lately and the list goes on and on. The generalizations did not come about from thin air. I have lived here long enough, to know how things work. I will try to be more accurate in my posts, however. Honestly, I like most people, LDS or not. I have met many wonderful LDS people, some of which I consider friends. It is not the people that are the problem ultimately. The problem is what the leaders are doing. The people are not what my remark was about, in my previous post. It was about non LDS people being indirectly controlled by a faith that they have nothing to do with. You should be able to gather from my previous post that I do not harbor any ill will towards the church. I think that the cowards that set that stake house on fire, should be brought to justice. You just don’t do that. That is still a house of worship, that people cherish. There is so much wrong going on with that.

  • Redbud January 28, 2019 at 9:09 pm

    I am LDS, it would be nice if we had a nice bar to go to after sacrament meeting, but that will never happen in Utah! Had that option in the state I lived in before.

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