Idaho

Fire destroys Eastern Idaho LDS church: ‘Everyone is just kind of stunned’

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel in Swan Valley is likely a total loss after it caught fire Tuesday, church officials said.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel in Swan Valley is likely a total loss after it caught fire Tuesday, church officials said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel in Swan Valley is likely a total loss after it caught fire Tuesday.

Palisades Ward Bishop Terry Hulse said the fire started around 2 p.m., and by 4 p.m. it appeared the chapel was a total loss.

Swan Valley Fire Department was the lead responding agency. Swan Valley Chief Dean Philbrick said he couldn’t speak about the fire when called after 5 p.m. because crews were still actively fighting it.

The chapel is located off of U.S. Highway 26 north of Irwin. At 5:39 p.m. Tuesday, a Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office news release said Highway 26 was closed on both sides of the fire and traffic through that area was being rerouted.

Hulse said he did not know how the fire started but it appeared to have started in the attic.

The roof caved in from the fire.

No one was injured in the blaze, Hulse said. He said a piano tuner was inside the chapel when smoke began to plume from the attic. Hulse said a passerby saw the smoke and entered the chapel to warn the piano tuner, who escaped unharmed.

“Everyone is just kind of stunned,” Hulse said.

Ririe Stake President Boyd Foster thanked the responding firefighters for trying to knock out the flames.

“There was just nothing they could do,” Foster said. “But we have such great public servants in the area.”

Sharon Parry, a former member of the Idaho Falls City Council and a representative for the church, said on a typical Sunday the church could see a congregation of about 100 people. But during the summer tourist season the church would boast a congregation of 400 or 500 people, Parry said. She said the church welcomed any members but generally served the area from the Wyoming border up to the Clark Hill Rest Area along U.S. Highway 26.

Parry said she didn’t know where the congregation would meet in the interim.

Hulse said it was a shame to lose the building as it was not only a place of worship but also hosted community events.

“It’s pretty devastating,” Hulse said. “We use it for all our social activities for the whole valley.”

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