Tips sought in suspicious Delco camp blaze

Police say a 'suspicious' fire ripped through Chester Heights Camp Meeting in Delaware County, destroying 9 buildings including a church. It was the second suspicious fire reported at the site in the last few months.

February 21, 2012 6:28:19 AM PST
Police say a 'suspicious' fire ripped through the Chester Heights Camp Meeting destroying 9 buildings, including a church.

The blaze was first reported around 11:30 p.m. Saturday at the camp off Valley Brook Road.

The buildings were fully engulfed in flames as fire crews arrived.

The wind combined with the dry timber of the buildings - which date back to the 1800s - caused the fire to spread quickly.

There were also no hydrants in the area and firefighters were forced to call in tanker trucks for water.

No injuries were reported.

Police say this is the second suspicious fire to happen at this location in the last few months.

Three people - were charged for a fire that happened at the same location back in October.

Daniel Johnson, 22, of Chadds Ford was charged with Arson and Related Offenses; John Kasper, 26, from West Bradford was charged with Tampering with evidence along with Criminal and Defiant Trespassing; and Elizabeth Hegadorn, 25, of Rushland was charged with Criminal and Defiant Trespassing.

There was no immediate indication that those three had anything to do with this weekend's fire.

Pennsylvania State Police ask that anyone with information about this weekend's fire to call the PSP Media Station at 484-840-1000.

Pat Smith, President of the Camp Meeting, showed us around the secluded hillside that has been under attack. Smith suspects this most recent fire set by kids who are ignorant of what this place is.

"Ignorant of how important this is to Delaware County history, it is listed on the National Historic Register," Smith said.

There is concern for the 50 remaining cottages, some lovingly restored, which have survived more than a century.

Methodists founded the Chester Heights Camp Meeting during a period of religious revival in the 19th century and these cottages served as summer homes back then.

"People wanted to escape from the city to get out where it was cool, to be in a place of peace to praise God and worship Him," said the Rev. Jimmy Ray Montgomery.

The Chester Heights Camp Meeting was on a railroad line to Philadelphia.

"John Wanamaker brought the largest Sunday school out, some 700 children," said Smith.

People no longer come by the trainload for weeks, but now this non-denominational non-profit does host summer concerts. Its members vow the 2012 season is still a go and say they say they will rebuild - and welcome any offerings of help.

"We are not defeated and this is God's ground," said Smith.

The Chester Heights Camp Meeting is a 501(c)(3) organization. If you would like to make a donation, call 610-494-4707 or mail to: Chester Heights Camp Meeting
40 Patricia Lane
Glen Mills, Pa. 19342