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New Plymouth church fire accidental, Idaho fire marshal says

The fire burned New Plymouth First Baptist Church on May 15. Investigators found mechanical failure of a chest freezer caused the fire.

NEW PLYMOUTH, Idaho — The fire that gutted a 97-year-old church building in New Plymouth on May 15 was an accident, investigators with the Idaho State Fire Marshal's Office and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have determined.

Firefighters with the New Plymouth Fire Department and several nearby agencies worked for several hours to put out the fire the night of May 15 and into the morning of May 16 at First Baptist Church of New Plymouth.

Once investigators were able to safely access the building and sift through debris, they found that the fire originated in the church's basement. The cause, they determined, was an "indeterminable mechanical failure of a chest freezer that was donated to the church several years ago," according to a news release from the Idaho Department of Insurance and the fire marshal's office.

Now that the investigation is over and the fire has been ruled accidental, the church may begin rebuilding, State Fire Marshal Knute Sandahl said.

Sandahl also said the investigation had many challenges. Before investigators could enter what was left of the building, the Payette County Road and Bridge Department had to remove an unstable chimney and wall, and an excavator removed debris.

Weather conditions in the hours leading up to the fire were also a factor in the search for answers.

"Due to an earlier storm that afternoon, officials had to consider a lightning strike being a cause," Sandahl said. "With the assistance of the Bureau of Land Management Boise Dispatch Office, and the Payette County Sheriff's drone, investigators were able to eliminate this as a viable cause."

"We are very grateful for all the agencies that cooperated. Without this level of cooperation, we likely would not have been able to conduct this investigation and determine the cause of the fire," Sandahl added.

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