Church vows to rebuild

By Alicia A. Caldwell | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted August 27, 2003




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DELTONA -- When an afternoon lightning strike touched off a fire at the First Baptist Church of Deltona on Monday, Patricia Herchenroder was panic-stricken that her late father's decades-old Bible would be destroyed.

The King James Bible rested on an American flag-decorated table in front of the altar. Remnants of the flags and other decorations, many just melted blobs of fabric, were hardly recognizable. But the Bible, open to 2 Chronicles, was unscathed.

"It's amazing, absolutely amazing," Herchenroder said, fighting back tears as she glanced around the destroyed sanctuary. "That was the first thing I was worried about. Money can replace everything else."

And it will be replaced, her son the Rev. Byron Herchenroder, the church's pastor, said Tuesday. The church was fully insured, and the pastor said he and other church officials have every intention of completely restoring the building.

Fixing it probably will mean gutting the sanctuary, he said.

A stench of smoke still filled the building Tuesday afternoon. All of the church's pews were soot-covered and suffered heat damage that melted the polyester seat coverings. Ceiling fans hung limply, their blackened blades drooping. The blaze's heat melted organ keys, curling them upward.

Chris Nabicht, the Deltona fire marshal, said Tuesday that lightning was probably the cause. The damage estimate was changed Tuesday to more than $250,000.

Nabicht said the damage could have been much less if the church's fire alarm company, Signal 21 Security Services, hadn't sent firefighters to the wrong Providence Boulevard address.

"The alarm company sent us to the wrong address; they sent us to 2100 Providence Blvd.," Nabicht said. The church is at 1200 Providence, and there is no building at 2100.

He said firefighters got to the scene about 18 minutes after the call came in, shortly after 1 p.m. Nabicht said the Fire Department was additionally delayed after being told by the alarm company that someone at the church reported that it was a false alarm. It was only when they arrived, about 1:25 p.m., that thick black smoke was seen billowing from the church's steeple.

Andy Forrest, owner of the alarm company, said he was reviewing tapes of Monday's call and would not comment further.

While church officials wait for fire and insurance reports to be finalized and renovations to begin, regular Sunday services will move to the original church building on the same property. Deltona Christian School, which is run by the church, was not damaged in the Monday afternoon fire and will remain open during remodeling, Byron Herchenroder said.

No one was injured in Monday's fire, and Herchenroder said the building was empty.

"There was absolutely nobody in the building, and the building was locked," the pastor said.

The Rev. Donald Herchenroder, Patricia Herchenroder's husband of more than 50 years and the church's original pastor, said Tuesday that the Bible's survival was a sure sign.

"All I can say is God's word can't be destroyed," he said. "The King James Bible and God's word can't be destroyed."

Alicia A. Caldwell can be reached at acaldwell@orlandosentinel.com
or 386-851-7924.