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South Salt Lake • Police and fire investigators are asking for the public's help in gathering information about a trio of suspicious blazes that damaged two LDS Church chapels and a vacant home early Saturday.

"Our big push right now is to get folks to come forward with any information about suspicious vehicles or people seen at the times of the fires," said South Salt Lake Fire Chief Steve Foote.

Authorities believe the three fires could be connected, and were chasing down leads late Saturday.

"They're definitely suspicious," Foote said. "Right now, having three fires in that close time frame, we're looking at all possibilities."

The first fire started at a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meetinghouse at 3219 S. 300 East. Firefighters arrived just after 3:30 a.m. The building's chapel was fully engulfed and flames had blown out the windows, Foote said.

The fire was contained to the chapel but the rest of the building took on heavy smoke and water. Damage exceeded $1 million, Foote said.

"The LDS Church hasn't decided whether they will demolish it and start over or try to rebuild it," Foote said.

Three hours later, firefighters were called to an LDS church at 2702 S. Main. The fire caused minimal damage, Foote said, though the building was damaged by smoke and water.

It likely will take several months to restore both chapels, church officials said. In the meantime, wards meeting in those buildings will be sharing other chapels in the Granite and South Salt Lake stake areas, respectively.

The fires are expected to affect more than 900 church members. About 450 regularly attend services at the 3219 S. 300 East facility, while 450 to 500 attend the 2702 S. Main building.

We've been told it will take anywhere from three to six months to make repairs," said David Young, president of the South Salt Lake Stake. "There is a lot of smoke and water damage."

In addition to South Salt Lake fire investigators, Young said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is looking into the incidents.

The third fire occurred about 7:15 a.m. South Salt Lake Fire Department was called to a vacant home near 500 East and Welby Avenue (3027 South). The home's garage was engulfed in flames.

"It puts people's lives in danger," Foote said.

Mark Harvey, who attends the Miller Ward, said his church on 300 East was "gutted." He walked inside Saturday morning and said the brass door handles inside the chapel had melted.

His wife, Sherrie Harvey, has volunteered in the nursery for the past six months and cried all day because of the damage, he said. "It's sad," he said. "I just hope the people who did this understand in time that they were in the wrong, and that they realize there's a lot of good in organized religions."

Mark Mills, executive secretary for the Miller Ward, said the fire is only a minor setback.

"It's disappointing, but we'll persevere," he said. "There are some inconveniences, but we'll be fine," Mills said.

The ward held its annual Trunk or Treat event at the nearby Granite Stake Center after the church's parking lot and building were blocked off to visitors.

Tribune reporter Bob Mims contributed to this report. —

How to help

I Anyone with information on the fires is urged to call South Salt Lake police at 801-840-4000.