LAFFERTY - Fire officials have made no ruling on the cause of a fire that destroyed St. Mary Catholic Church in Lafferty on May 23, but they announced Friday that there is no indication the blaze was intentionally set.
"As of right now, the cause is undetermined with no evidence of criminal intent," according to Stephanie Sharlow, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of State Fire Marshal.
Lafferty Fire Chief Larry Zalesny said he spoke with fire marshal officials Wednesday, but they did not provide him with information about the cause of the fire. Instead, they informed him their investigation was complete and that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Steubenville could proceed with any plans it may have for the property.
Despite the fact that the fire rekindled four times on Sunday, Zalesny said the fire marshal's investigators told him they did not plan to return to the scene. Earlier this week, Zalesny had said he hoped the investigators would return.
"They said they don't need to come back down," Zalesny noted Friday. "Truthfully, they're not going to see much now that it's completely on the ground."
Zalesny thanked all the local fire departments that assisted the Lafferty Volunteer Fire Department in battling the initial blaze, as well as all those that responded to the four separate reports that the church was burning again on Sunday. He said the rekindling blaze kept firefighters busy from 7 a.m. until after 11 p.m. Sunday.
Although he stressed he has no idea what the diocese plans for the future of the congregation or the site, Zalesny said people in the community hope the diocese will keep a church in Lafferty. He said residents are talking about the building adjacent to the former church, where a small Mass is celebrated each Wednesday. Zalesny said church members believe that by removing a wall in the adjacent structure, the diocese could create enough space for the congregation to continue its tradition of Saturday evening and Sunday morning Masses there.
"Still, Lafferty would have its church," Zalesny said of the members' proposal.
Pat DeFrancis, spokeswoman fro the diocese, said plans for the future of the St. Mary's site and congregation have not yet been formulated.
"The diocese remains without a bishop, and a diocesan administrator is limited in what he can do, according to church law," DeFrancis noted.
She previously said St. Mary's members are welcome to attend Mass at any church in the diocese.