Church officials use humor to deal with fire in W.Va.

Interior of Oakland United Methodist Church suffered significant damage

Interior of Oakland United Methodist Church suffered significant damage

March 25, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- A fire that caused $300,000 damage to Oakland United Methodist Church along W.Va. 9 east of Charles Town the day after Easter has not dampened the spirits of church officials.

They injected humor into the situation Monday afternoon as they surveyed the damage inside the sanctuary.

"Well, I think Joe wanted a new drum set," Executive Pastor H. Kent Tice said.

Debris was scattered around the sanctuary in the area of the pulpit and a tattered wall stood as evidence of the fire's path.

The church, which sits across from the Crosswinds subdivision, also operates a restaurant, and another church official joked that the special of the day was barbecued chicken.

Fire officials were notified of the fire about 5 a.m. Monday after a commuter driving by noticed a glow in the church, Independent Fire Co. Chief Ed Smith said.


When firefighters arrived, they noticed heavy smoke and fire "right up on the pulpit," Smith said.

Firefighters were able to get into the church before the fire got out of control and knocked it down in about 10 minutes, Smith said.

But it was not enough to save the interior of the church from significant damage.

The sanctuary, a balcony and sound equipment sustained heavy heat and smoke damage, Smith said.

"A lot of it just plain melted," Smith said.

Church officials were thankful that it was not worse.

Senior Pastor JoAnne Alexander said firefighters told her that the fire was about to reach the rafters and go into a "flash" state.

Investigators were still trying to determine the cause of the fire Monday, but Smith said he considered it to be accidental and possibly caused by a candle.

Smith said he based his theory in part on the fact that a severely damaged candleholder was found in the debris, Smith said.

Church officials wondered how a candle might have started it.

There was a service in the church Sunday night but everyone remembered candles being put out, church officials said.

"Where was it is the question," Alexander said.

Church officials wanted to know if something electrical might have started it.

Sunday night's church service was for Spanish-speaking members of the congregation known as Promesas de DIOS, church officials said.

The group probably was in the church until about 10 p.m., at the latest, church officials said.

Smith said he does not believe anyone broke into the church because the doors were locked when firefighters arrived.

Although the fire was under control in about 10 minutes, firefighters were on the scene for about three hours venting heavy smoke out of the high ceilings, Smith said.

The main entrance to the sanctuary was cordoned off with yellow tape Monday afternoon and large windows looking into the sanctuary were tinged with black soot. The once-white interior of the church was black.

Computer terminals were melted, as were some speakers.

The fire spread up a wall behind the pulpit, where a projection screen was stored, and there were burned remains of a waterfall scene that was used in Easter services.

It will probably be several weeks before services can be held in the sanctuary, Tice said. In the meantime, services likely will be held in a foyer, Alexander said.

A contractor was expected to arrive at the church later Monday to start assessing needed repairs, Alexander said.

"We're just in sort of a state of flux right now, waiting to find out what some of the answers are," Tice said.

Smith said much of the church's furniture probably can be cleaned, but damaged drywall probably will have to be replaced.

Church programs like a food ministry and sports programs will not be affected by the fire, church officials said. Also unaffected is a restaurant - named Paul's - which is operated by the church.

About 225 people regularly attend the church's services, and about 400 people attended Easter services, church officials said.

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