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Dummerston man arrested in connection with church fire

DUMMERSTON—A 19-year-old Dummerston man faces a charge of second-degree arson in connection with a Sept. 1 fire at the Dummerston Congregational Church.

Dakota Thomas was arrested by Vermont State Police and appeared in Windham Superior Court in Brattleboro on Sept. 3.

Judge Katherine Hayes released Thomas on conditions and ordered him to return to court Oct. 14 to answer to the charge.

In his arrest report, Det. Sgt. Steven Otis of the Vermont State Police Fire Investigation Unit did not indicate what led them to Thomas. The state offered a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to an arrest.

An affidavit is expected to be released following Thomas’ next court appearance.

Fire broke out in the historic church, built in 1842, on Sept. 1 at about 10:30 p.m. West Dummerston painter Moe Momaney, passing by, noticed smoke and flame at the front of the church and was able to get inside and contain the blaze with a fire extinguisher until fire crews arrived.

Damage, confined to the front wall of the church sanctuary, is estimated at $25,000. State police fire investgators were called in the next morning and determined that the fire was intentionally set.

The church, at Middle, East-West, and Bunker roads in Dummerston Center, is holding its Sunday worship services at the nearby Evening Star Grange until the church is restored to use.

On the Dummerston.com website, the Rev. Susanna Griefen wrote there was very little water damage to the sanctuary thanks to firefighters’ precision. A candelabra was bent by the heat of the blaze and the church’s sound system was damaged, as was the old pulpit. The church’s organ will need cleaning.

Griefen wrote that insurance will cover repairs. She added that the clean-up has begun and that Momaney will repaint the sanctuary.

“We are so lucky there was so little damage,” she wrote. “God is good.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #271 (Wednesday, September 10, 2014). This story appeared on page A1.

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