22 Aug 2014
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Minister Burned Trying to Put Out Fire

Rev. Scott Imler of Crescent Heights United Methodist Church suffers third degree burns on his hand after trying to put out a small fire in the church office.

Minister Burned Trying to Put Out Fire Minister Burned Trying to Put Out Fire

A local minister suffered third degree burns on his hand after attempting to put out a small fire at his church.

Scott Imler, pastor at the located at 1296 Fairfax Avenue (at Fountain), discovered a fire burning in the church office on Sunday afternoon. When he attempted to extinguish the fire with a blanket, his left hand was burned.

“[My hand is] pretty gnarly,” said Imler who is left handed. “The thumb and index finger are fine, but the other three fingers are [messed] up.”

Imler reported to Weho Patch that he had went outside to water plants and deal with other chores about 2 p.m. Sunday, leaving the church’s main door unlocked. When he came back inside 30 minutes later, he smelled smoke and found a fire blazing in a trash barrel in the church office.

"When I opened the door [to the church office] there was a rush of wind, the flames lept skyward and a cloud of hot black smoke hit me in the face,” Imler said.

He tried to fill a trash can with water, but couldn’t get the can under the faucet of the small bathroom sink. He then rushed through the office to grab a blanket and tried to smoother it. The fire consumed the blanket in a matter of seconds, but a second blanket was able to extinguish it.

In the process of smoothing the fire, he plunged his hand into a puddle of molten plastic. He suffered second- and third-degree burns on the top of his left hand, but no burns on his palm.

After initially being treated a Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Imler is scheduled to begin treatment today at the Grossman Burn Center in West Hills.

Looks to be an accident

The fire apparently was not deliberately set. “The fire department doesn’t think it was arson,” Imler said. “They think it was an accident.”

Imler had been cleaning out the church office and had thrown many old magazines and papers into a Rubbermaid trash barrel. The fire department believes it was a cigarette butt thrown in or beside the barrel that started the fire, Imler reports.  

While smoking is not allowed inside the church, people attending 12-step meetings housed at the church do smoke on the steps outside the church. An empty coffee can is provided to dispose of cigarette butts.

“Maybe someone emptied the coffee can into the trash barrel,” Imler speculated. “The fire department found cigarette butts on the floor beside where the trash barrel was.”

Calls to the fire department to confirm were not returned by press time.

Discontinued church

Crescent Heights United Methodist Church With a dwindling congregation, the church district officials decided to discontinue the church. The last Sunday morning worship services were held there on Aug. 28.

While the congregation has been dissolved, Imler remains at the church as caretaker, having just signed a year-long contract to continue the church’s ministry of hospitality. Non-profits and 12-step groups still meet in the building daily. 

The church also has a midnight ministry which provides a place to sleep for five LGBT youth. Imler doesn’t believe any of the five started the fire, pointing out that they would be homeless if not for the church.

Despite the fire in the church office, Imler is still sleeping in the room next door to oversee the midnight ministry.

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