The Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service is investigating fires set at two Bethesda churches over the weekend, according to authorities.
At about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, fire and rescue crews were called to North Bethesda United Methodist Church at 10100 Old Georgetown Road, where they quickly extinguished a small fire, Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Pete Piringer said in a recorded message released at noon Sunday.
Firefighters found “multiple areas in which they found small fires were either set attempted to be set,” Piringer said.
Shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday, fire and rescue crews were dispatched for an automatic alarm at the St. Jane Frances de Chantal Church in at 9601 Old Georgetown Road, Piringer said. When crews arrived, they found a fire that had damaged several pews in the Catholic church. About 65 fire fighters responded and the fire was quickly extinguished, he said.
Damage was in excess of $50,000, Piringer said.
The fire was “the second incident of vandalism, in this case arson, that had occurred in the last two days” at the Catholic church, Piringer said in an earlier recorded message Sunday. There were “multiple areas a fire had been set or attempted to be set” in the church, he said.
In his updated message Sunday, Piringer noted investigators are looking into similarities between the incidents, including that the churches are located near each other, multiple fires were set or attempted to be set at each location, and both incidents occurred around the same time of night.
Also, investigators found early Saturday some “debris” and “broken wood” and some headstones in the 10200 block of Old Georgetown Road, near the Wildwood Baptist Church, Piringer said.
.@MontgomeryCoMD @mcfrs Fire/Explosive Investigators seeking info RE this morning’s (2a) fire at Saint Jane Frances de Chantal Catholic Church ANYONE w/ any info Call @mcfrs ARSON Tipline 240.777.2263 https://t.co/8LwDMTXE60 pic.twitter.com/osyYcSVRUY
— Pete Piringer (@mcfrsPIO) July 10, 2022
St. Jane Frances de Chantal Church announced on its website that “due to an emergency situation,” all Sunday Masses would be in held in the Christopher Hall Gymnasium on the property. A YouTube video of a Sunday service showed the Rev. Samuel Giese celebrating Mass at an altar that had been set up in front of the gymnasium stage with rows of parishioners seated in folding chairs.
Before delivering his sermon, Giese said church officials were working with insurance adjusters that morning, according to the video.
“My hope is we will be back in our church next weekend for Mass,” but weekday services would be conducted in the gymnasium, Giese told parishioners.
Fire investigators are asking anyone with information about the incidents to call the arson tip line at 240-777-2263.