CONCORD (KPIX) — Contra Costa County fire investigators say a May 13 fire that destroyed a Concord church building may have been started by a homeless person seeking shelter in a crawl space under the structure.
The two-story building at the Christ Community Church in Concord was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived. The multi-purpose building included a kitchen, classrooms and a large meeting space. Investigators say they could not determine if the two-alarm fire was set intentionally or by accident. After the fire was out, a cadaver dog searched the ruins for victims because evidence showed someone had been living in the space beneath the foundation.
“We had problems in the past with people trying to sleep under there,” said interim pastor Janelle Maher. “We had grated it off but it looks like maybe someone had moved the grate and was, like, pulling it closed behind them … no one expects to go check under their property every day to make sure there’s no one there.”
Luckily, no human remains were found and, on Saturday, Maher said they feel no anger toward the person who started the fire.
“It’s really easy to see how it just as easily could have been me that was homeless, could have been me that broke into an unoccupied building looking for shelter,” Maher said.
Concern for the homeless is a real commitment at Christ Community. Throughout the pandemic, the local food bank has used the church parking lot as a distribution point and, even on Saturday with the smell of smoke still hanging in the air, church members handed out groceries to people who could use some help — people like Andrew Lawrence.
“They have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people coming here to get groceries,” he said. “I’ve been coming here for five years and I’ve had nothing but good things for me.”
“That’s something that we do,” said church member and volunteer Bennie Alexander. “We just keep carrying on. We’re one big family. Gonna keep it going on!”
The multi-purpose building is destroyed and, even though the actual sanctuary still stands, the church members will be looking for a new home. The property is in the process of being sold to become an affordable housing complex and the congregation was already set to relocate to a nearby senior center. The fire complicates things a bit but, for the church members, there are no hard feelings. They say it only highlights the importance of their mission.
“It’s a bummer to me, not because of our building — it’s a bummer to me that we have people in our community where the most hospitable place they can think to sleep is under a building,” Pastor Maher said.