Federal officials say an accelerant was poured around the exterior of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's church, including by entrances at the 2 1/2-year-old building, which was partly gutted by a costly fire Friday night.
Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) joined an arson investigation at the Wasilla Bible Church Monday, where church officials say a fire caused $1 million in damage. The blaze was set while a small group, including two children, were inside the church, though all escaped safely.
The ATF is now the fifth agency to join in the arson investigation in Wasilla Alaska, along with the Central Mat-Su Fire Department, Anchorage Fire Department, Wasilla Police Department and the State Fire Marshals Office.
"ATF will continue to work diligently alongside our local partners and will make every effort to find the person or persons responsible for this fire," said Acting Special Agent in Charge Douglas R. Dawson. "Most important, there were no injuries or deaths related to this incident."
Members of the church gathered in high spirits at a middle school Sunday, though Palin was not in attendance for the service. The former Republican vice-presidential candidate was in Juneau preparing to propose a state budget, said her spokesman, Bill McAllister.
For the congregation, the church is more a building, said John Doak, associate pastor at Wasilla Bible Church.
"The definition of the church is the body of Christ, made up of God's people," Doak said after the hourlong service at Wasilla Middle School attended by about 1,200 people. "The church is still there. We are the church."
Church member Patsy Inks said the news initially shocked and frustrated her. But by Sunday, she was feeling blessed, she said at the school, where worshippers lingered over a potluck dinner for a church family leaving Alaska.
"This tragedy has brought us all together," Inks said, her eyes tearing up.
Palin, who was not at the church at the time of the fire, stopped by Saturday. According to McAllister, Palin told an assistant pastor she was sorry if the fire was connected to the "undeserved negative attention" the church has received since she became the vice presidential candidate Aug. 29.
Worshippers acknowledged the possible Palin connection with the fire, but more in a "gee, maybe" sort of way, said Rob Tracy, who shuttled people to the school for services. But people are speculating about other motives.
"It's just as likely to be some troubled person who has a beef with God," Tracy said.
"Or some local punks," Doak said.
Wasilla, the governor's hometown, is 40 miles north of Anchorage.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.