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Arson suspect arrested in Burlington church fire - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Arson suspect arrested in Burlington church fire

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Aliaksandr Bychkou Aliaksandr Bychkou
BURLINGTON, Vt. -

As another hour hits, no bells will toll. The College Street Congregational Church's steeple barely still stands.

"When I see the flames and everything and the smoke, that's when I knew it was really bad," said Poncho Trotman, a neighbor.

When Trotman stepped out of his house a little before 6 a.m. Wednesday, he says the clock tower looked like a torch.

"I thought the thing was going to burn down, you know, like the way it was going," he said.

Burlington Fire Chief Seth Lasker says getting close enough to the fire proved one of the biggest challenges.

"Some of the stairways are wooden ladder-type stairwells leading up to the higher points of the building -- and those had burned away," Lasker said.

They couldn't get to the fire from the inside.

"Had to put up aerial ladders and put the fire out from outside," Lasker said.

They blasted the bell tower with thousands of gallons of water.

"It is unusual," Lasker said.

That's what they said at first about the fire starting in the steeple. Soon we learned police had an arson suspect in custody, Aliaksandr Bychkou, 32, of South Burlington. In fact, he was in police custody before anyone realized there was a fire.

The church's janitor noticed an open door and called police, who found Bychkou in the church. Moments later, the bell tower erupted in flames.

Bychkou now faces arson charges.

"We have a lot of people in this world who do crazy things that we don't understand and this is one of them," said Bill Harwood, a church member. "Why would anybody want to burn this?"

And the church had questions they've asked before. An arsonist hit the same church in 1994, doing close to $200,000 in damage.

This time, fire investigators say damage is estimated at $1 million.

"We have just spent almost $2 million renovating the church," Harwood said. "We put in all this time money and effort, and we had a fire in the one place that the fire inspector had a good look at and that was the steeple."

The damage means the steeple will have to come down. A crane will come Thursday and the steeple will be down by Saturday. South Union and College streets can't reopen until that happens.

Meanwhile, kids are waiting to get back into the basement where the YMCA has a day care.

"What we've learned is there's extensive damage and it may be quite some time before we're able to go back to the church," said Cal Workman of the YMCA.

Thirty families of infants and toddlers are now scrambling to make plans while the Y comes up with a temporary solution.

Daylight revealed the new scars on the steeple of a church that's healed before, a bell tower, they say, will toll again.

"We've been here since 1867; we're going to stay here," Harwood said.

Bychkou pleaded not guilty to arson in court Wednesday afternoon.

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