A fire that raged out of control for two hours destroyed a Frederick church yesterday afternoon, causing $3 million in damage and leaving nine firefighters injured.
State fire marshals planned to spend the night at the Seventh-day Adventist Church, on Adventist Drive near Interstate 70, trying to determine how the blaze began.
"At this point, we don't know where in the building the fire started and it may be several days before we pinpoint a cause," said Bob Thomas, a spokesman for the state fire marshal's office.
The spectacular fire was visible for miles and caused a backup on I-70 when thick smoke blanketed the highway.
Many people -- including members of the congregation -- stopped to watch the blaze, either from the roadside or from an overflow parking lot at nearby Harry Grove Stadium, home of the Frederick Keys baseball team.
Yesterday's fire was the second major blaze in two weeks in Maryland to destroy a church. An arson fire at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Essex on Feb. 20 also caused an estimated $3 million in damage.
Two teen-agers were charged with setting that fire by igniting leaves near a wood fence behind the building.
While arson was being investigated as a possible cause in the Frederick blaze, fire officials said it was too early to make a conclusive finding.
Arson investigators, including officers with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, were to comb through the debris this morning.
The caretaker of the 40-foot-high brick and wood church built in 1970 discovered the fire in a classroom of an attached school a few minutes before 3 p.m.
The fire apparently spread to a breezeway and to the main church building.
Within 40 minutes, the fire had broken through the roof and engulfed the steeple, Mr. Thomas said.
No one was inside the school or the church at the time.
It took 200 firefighters from Frederick city and county, and Washington and Montgomery counties until 5 p.m. to bring the blaze under control, and they were still dousing hot spots late last night.
Nine firefighters were injured, most with minor burns, cuts or smoke inhalation.
Three were taken by ambulance to Frederick Memorial Hospital, where they were treated for cuts and exhaustion.