Church’s op shop gutted in weekend blaze

UNITINGCARE volunteers in California Gully have been devastated by a deliberately lit fire that destroyed their opportunity shop and warehouse and caused damage estimated at $300,000 on Friday night.Fire investigators spent Saturday investigating the scene of the fire, which police say was “definitely deliberately lit”.Donated goods valued at thousands of dollars were lost in the blaze, which started shortly after 7.30pm.It took CFA firefighters more than 90 minutes to extinguish the flames, which were already through the roof when they arrived.Bendigo criminal investigation unit Detective Acting Sergeant Mark Crossley said it was believed the offenders broke into the building and may have stolen small items or cash before setting the warehouse ablaze.“This fire is a disgusting crime committed against a victim who is trying to help the community.“We’re looking for anyone with information .?.?. [or] witnesses police haven’t spoken to yet, to come forward.”Police believe the fire is linked to a series of burglaries at other opportunity shops in Bendigo on Friday night.Detective Acting Sergeant Crossley said the Salvation Army op shops in Ironbark and Kangaroo Flat and the View Hill Fellowship Church in Mackenzie Street were also broken into between 7.30pm Friday and 8am Saturday and small amounts of cash were stolen.UnitingCare op shop co-ordinator Della Belz said she was devastated when she arrived at the shop on Friday night to see the fire trucks and police.“You’re just thinking about what all the volunteers are going to be thinking when they hear the news.“We’re a very close-knit family here, at all our stores.“It was very much like home.”Mrs Belz said the loss of stock was most devastating, with sorting for UnitingCare’s four stores done at the warehouse.“We put all our money back into the local community,” she said.“For us though, we look forward to another challenge.“We’ve got a fantastic group of volunteers that are keen to get back on board.”She said the store would either relocate or rebuild back on site.“We hope to be back up and running soon.”Detective Acting Sergeant Crossley said anyone with information about the fire or burglaries or who may have seen suspicious behaviour in the area should call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or the Bendigo CIU on 5448 1370.

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