Teen accused of setting church fire

Alleged arsonist was congregation member


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The altar at St. John Orthodox Cathedral in Chugiak was badly damaged after a congregation member allegedly set fire to the church in the early morning of Aug. 23. Hans Ihde, 18, was arrested and charged with second degree arson, second degree burglary and third degree theft.

Photo courtesy of Father Marc Dunaway

Police arrested Hans Ihde, 18, of Eagle River after he allegedly set fire to St. John Orthodox Cathedral on Thursday, Aug. 23. Ihde was charged with second-degree arson, second-degree burglary and third-degree theft.

Ihde was a 13-year congregation member of St. John Orthodox, according to Father Marc Dunaway. Father Dunaway said he’d seen a change for the worse in Ihde in recent months, and speculated that the 18-year-old had been taking drugs.

“It just made him into a different person,” Dunaway said.

The arson was captured on video, Dunaway said.

A security camera showed Ihde entering the upstairs room of the church located on Monastery Drive with a gas can at 12:43 a.m., Marc Dunaway said.

“You can see the flash of fire three minutes after he entered,” he said. “He had poured gasoline all around the altar.”

Fortunately, Marc Dunaway’s 20-year-old son, Benjamin, was walking to his house across the street from the church just seconds after Ihde ignited the fire, Marc Dunaway said. The two crossed paths as Ihde exited the church, he said.

Benjamin Dunaway ran to the next-door church house and called 9-1-1, Marc Dunaway said. Benjamin Dunaway and Peter Lynch — who lives in the church house — began fighting the fire just five minutes after it was set, the elder Dunaway said, and saved the rest of the church.

“Six minutes more and it might have been the whole building,” Marc Dunaway said.

Anchorage Police arrived on scene at 12:58 a.m. and the Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department arrived one minute later, Marc Dunaway said.

CVFD called Anchorage Fire Department Station 11 in Eagle River to use their ladder due to the height of the ceiling, assistant chief Virginia McMichael said via email. 

After reviewing the security footage, police arrested Ihde at his home, APD said. Ihde was remanded to Anchorage Jail, and his bail was set at $10,000 plus third party custodian.

Marc Dunaway said the church sustained about $60,000 worth of damage. The church, which is insured, is not seeking donations, he said.

Ash and soot blanketed the room where Sunday service is typically held, Marc Dunaway said.

“It was really sad to see our beautiful room covered in ash,” he said. “Soot and fire extinguisher spray covered everything.”

In the weeks following the fire, services were held in the building’s basement. Marc Dunaway said he’s hoping to host this Sunday’s service upstairs.

His son’s timing was more than lucky, Marc Dunaway said. It was “God’s plan.” 

From now on, every service held at St. John Orthodox Cathedral is a miracle, he said.

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