ARSONISTS came close to burning down a Colne Valley church.
And the angry vicar says it was sheer good luck that Slaithwaite Parish Church was not razed to the ground.
The Rev Robin Townsend said that if the church treasurer, who lives nearby, had not heard the smoke alarm going off, the fire could have swept through the building.
As it was, it was confined to just behind a door - but still caused damage estimated at £6,500.
Mr Townsend spoke out after revealing the church had been targeted by vandals before.
He believes children were to blame for the fire, which was discovered at 5.30pm on Monday.
"This is sheer arson," he said. "It's a dreadful situation when children try to burn down a church.
"We were within a whisker of the church being destroyed. If the treasurer had not heard the alarm the whole place would have gone up."
Mr Townsend added: "We have had problems in the past with lights and windows broken and graffiti daubed on the building."
The treasurer, Mrs Margaret Warren, said: "We have had so much trouble in the past, but things had gone quiet in recent months.
"Now this has happened. It is the nearest they have come to destroying the church. It was lucky I live near and heard the smoke alarm."
Mrs Warren and a friend, Mrs Sheila Lowe, who was visiting from the West Midlands, saw a group of children running away from the church about 30 minutes before they discovered the fire.
Mrs Warren said: "We thought it strange the children were running away and a short time later we went into the garden to move an ornament.
"It was then we heard the smoke alarm going off, so we went straight round to the church to investigate."
They discovered a small fire outside the back door. The flames were quickly stamped out.
Mrs Warren had a key and opened the door to turn the alarm off - but found the church full of smoke.
She shut the door, and as the two women turned to leave they came across a teenager on a bright yellow bike and believed he may have had something to do with the fire.
Mrs Lowe grabbed the handlebars and Mrs Warren took hold of his arm. But they let go when he said he would tell the police they had assaulted him.
The women then rushed to call the fire service and Slaithwaite firefighters were quickly on the scene.
Fire investigation experts have discovered that a flammable liquid was sprayed through the keyhole and set alight.
The fire spread to a curtain behind the door, a carpet and a keyboard in the south-east end of the church.
The church was filled with smoke and a giant fan had to be used to blow it out.
A fire service spokesman said: "It was a malicious ignition and an accelerant was used.
"Without doubt, the whole church could have gone up if the fire had taken a firm hold.
"Luckily it was extinguished quite quickly."
The boy on the bike stopped by Mrs Warren and Mrs Lowe is white. He wore dark clothes and a dark baseball cap.
Police are investigating the arson. Anyone with information should ring the Huddersfield police helpdesk on 01484 436659.