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Church destroyed by fire in northern Franklin County

September 11, 2011|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church in northern Franklin County, Pa., was destroyed by fire early Sunday.
By C.J. Lovelace/Staff Writer

DOYLESBURG, Pa. — By the time Fannett-Metal Fire Chief Sam Peterson arrived, Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church was fully engulfed in flames early Sunday.

“There was fire everywhere — through the roof, out the windows,” Peterson said. “It was everywhere.”

No one was injured in the fire, Peterson said. The call for the fire, at 21169 Cross Road, came in at 3:40 a.m. Sunday, according to Franklin County Emergency Services.

Peterson was unsure of the cause of the fire, but said a Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal and officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were on the scene about 8:15 a.m., when fire units cleared.

Doylesburg is in a rural area about 50 minutes north of Chambersburg, Pa., and northwest of Shippensburg, Pa.

Peterson came back to the scene to check for hot spots at about 11 a.m. Sunday, where numerous church members were congregating and taking photos of the still-standing brick shell of the building.

Church member Roseann Miller of Dry Run, Pa., said she heard the news from the congregation’s phone chain alert system.

“Those who were able to get here came right away. Others have been coming through the rest of the day,” Miller said. “I’ve been a member since 1988, and it just feels like we lost a family member.”

The church, believed to be built in the 1850s, began as a log cabin before the current brick building was erected, Peterson said.

The roof and all the windows of the church were destroyed in the fire, leaving nothing but charred remains inside. An addition to the rear of the church was relatively unharmed, but there were plans to renovate it in the near future, said church member Barb Goshorn of Spring Run, Pa.

“It was one of the oldest churches in Franklin County, I believe,” said Goshorn, who has attended the church since 1969. “One of the oldest Catholic churches, anyway.”

The church held a service Saturday at 7 p.m., but Goshorn and others said nothing seemed out of the ordinary as they left.

Ed and Rosann O’Lone of Delaware County, Pa., were visiting relatives and attended the service. Rosann O’Lone said she remembered church officials blowing out candles when they left.

“It’s so sad,” she said looking at the aftermath Sunday.

The church does not have air conditioning, but did have working overhead fans. The rear structure housed the building’s furnace, but it was not in use, Goshorn said, adding that officials told her the fire started “in the middle of the building.”

Peterson said it was very foggy when the first fire units arrived on the scene. The blaze was brought under control quickly with the help of a ladder truck from MMP&W Fire Department of Mercersburg, Pa., he said.

“Usually with something like this on a clear night, I could probably see it from Dry Run,” Peterson said. “But as foggy as it was last night, I couldn’t really tell until right here, and I could just see the glow at the top of the fog. (The fire) was clear through the roof. It was coming out of every window.”

The church, which is affiliated with Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Chambersburg, was home to about 25 active families, Miller estimated. The Rev. James R. O’Brien presides over the church, she said.

Phone calls to Corpus Christi officials went unanswered Sunday afternoon.

A neighbor reported the fire, Peterson said.

Additional information from state police was not available Sunday night.

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— Staff Writer Julie E. Greene contributed to this story.

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