KANKAKEE, Ill. (STMW) – A 7-year-old boy who is suspected of starting a fire at a church by using a lighted candle was burned but not seriously injured Sunday morning in Kankakee.

About 30 congregants were in the basement having refreshments following a service when a fire alarm activated at 11:18 a.m. at the brick, 1-story Annunciation Greek Orthodox church, 296 N. Washington Ave., according to Kankakee Fire Chief Bob Lergner.

The ground level began quickly filling up with a “tremendous” amount of smoke and when the congregants in the basement smelled it they began “self-evacuating,’’ by using a back door, the chief said.

But firefighters quickly learned there was a 7-year-old boy who wasn’t willing to come down from a stairwell to a balcony off the first level, where the fire started.

“He was in a stairwell. They were trying to get him to come down, they could see the smoke,’’ the chief said. Lergner said one of the first arriving firefighters scooped him up and rescued him.

The child suffered minor burns on his arm, and was taken to Riverside HealthCare in Kankakee but as of 3 p.m. was at home recovering with his family.

The child told investigators that after his grandparents took him to church, he had taken a candle and gone up to a small balcony and started the fire for an unidentified reason.

“The open flame cause the fire,’’ Lergner said.

Three small windows had to be broken in the balcony area as crews extinguished the fire. The balcony or storage area contained paper products and plastic items, such as plastic wreaths that burned.
“Those plastics generate so much smoke,” Lergner said.

The blaze was controlled in about 15 minutes but not before causing at least $100,000 in damage to tapestries and stained-glass windows, Lergner said.
“It could be five times that amount,’’ he said.

Church representatives said all the candles they used were blown out when the service ended. A butane lighter that may have been used to light the candle was found, according to the chief.

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