North Shelton Zion Lutheran Church fire

Jeff Pope, who lives northeast of the North Shelton Zion Lutheran Church, took this photo of the fire at the church at about 7:15 a.m Dec. 11 before firefighters arrived on scene. 

KEARNEY — A Shelton man has been arrested in connection with the Dec. 11 fire that destroyed the North Shelton Zion Lutheran Church.

Matt Poehler, 39, of Shelton was taken into custody by a Buffalo County Sheriff deputy Friday afternoon and booked into the Buffalo County Jail on suspicion of felony second-degree arson, said Buffalo County Attorney Shawn Eatherton in a press release.

Late Friday, Eatherton hadn’t filed formal charges.

At 7:04 a.m. Dec. 11, the Shelton Volunteer Fire Department was called to the church at 53125 Grand Island Road, two miles west of Shelton and nine miles north, for a structure fire. When firefighters arrived most of the church was fully involved in fire and part of the structure had collapsed into the basement.

As firefighters put water on the fire they also doused the metal cross at the top of the steeple that had fallen near the front steps of the church. After the cross cooled, parishioners at the scene pulled it away from the remains of the church and sat it upright.

There was only a small amount of damage to the cross.

Firefighters from four departments — Shelton, Gibbon, Wood River and Ravenna — dumped an estimated 65,000 gallons of water on the structure with the help of six tankers that shuttled water from a nearby well, four pumper trucks and about 40 firefighters.

Since the fire North Shelton Zion Lutheran Church several members have been attending services with their sister congregation at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Ravenna.

According to the Buffalo County Assessor’s Office, the church was valued at $129,265. Records at the Buffalo County Historical Society say the church was organized in May 1885, and services initially were conducted in homes and schoolhouses.

The church was built at its current site in 1912.