ATF Investigating Church Fire

| August 24, 2009

A fire destroys the historic St. Elmo United Methodist church leaving the congregation without a place to worship.

The fire happened Sunday night nearly destroying the building worth an estimated 3 million dollars.

Church members watched as fire engulfed the decades old United Methodist Church. Services had been over for hours firefighters says somehow the church ceiling caught on fire. When Pastor Mark Dowelle got the call during dinner, he says he immediately rushed over, saw the damage and went inside.

"I ran in and went up and down the halls screeming to make sure nobody was in the building, and then I heard something crack and I know the ceiling was falling from up above," says Dowelle.

However at 10 years old, that ceiling is the newest part of the decades old building. Firefighters attacked the flames from outside and above controlling it to the church sanctuary that’s been serving St. Elmo for 78 years.

"Just had a lady come to me a while ago say her grandfather who would be 84 years oldwas Christened here. We have members that have been members of this church 60-70 years," says Dowelle.

Members like youth minister Rusty Lowe’s been a part of the congregation for 25 years. Sunday night he watched firefighters spend two hours trying to save the sanctuary where he and his wife married.

Lowe says the old building was falling apart. To raise money for repairs, the congregation held a dinner here few weeks ago. They raised $2,000.00. The fellowship hall which is still in tact is where they were storing items for their garage sale in September.

"Maybe it was going to be too much to try and rebuild," says Lowe.

The fire’s massive size caused ATF investigators to get involved.

As they canvassed the scene today looking for a cause congregation members plan the next step.

While nothing is set in stone, the plan is to rebuild the church brick by brick.

"We are firm about rebuilding because the community needs us here," says Lowe.

The church pastor says he is not sure where Sunday services will be held, but says the church has had many offers from other churches to merge.

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Category: Church Security

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