Fire Guts Texas Church Building

Firefighters battle a multi-alarm fire at the Church on Rush Creek's children's sanctuary Monday evening. About 15 teen-agers escaped from the building.

About 60 firefighters were called to battle the blaze at the Church on Rush Creek's children's sanctuary Monday evening. The fire nearly destroyed the building.

Bystanders, including many members of the church, gather to pray as firefighters work to put out the fire.

Church members Dawne Lindemann, center, Tamara Fricke, left, and Kristen Fricke comfort one another after the fire.

MAP: Church fire

About 15 teen-agers escaped unharmed from a southwest Arlington church building before it was nearly destroyed in a four-alarm fire Monday evening.

The teens were having a youth meeting at a building on the campus of the Church on Rush Creek, in the 2300 block of Southwest Green Oaks Boulevard, when they smelled smoke.

"We smelled smoke for a few minutes, but we didn't think anything of it until the alarm went off," said Kaylee Hendricks, 17. "We got our stuff and left, but it got bigger and bigger, and they kept telling us to get back."

The building, which served as the main sanctuary when it was built in 1985, had been used as a children's sanctuary and also housed administrative offices, a food pantry and a gymnasium. It was about 100 feet from the main church house, which was not damaged.

The church, formerly known as Rush Creek Baptist Church, has about 1,300 members.

About 60 firefighters were called to fight the blaze, which began at 6:45 p.m., Assistant Fire Chief Brian Riley said.

The fire began in an attic and spread quickly, Riley said. The building was almost destroyed.

"I don't know if the wind was a factor, but it was into most of the building by the time we got it under control," Riley said.

Investigators had not determined the cause.

Daniel Good, 17, a church member and janitor, said smoke was pouring out of a room where the heating and air-conditioning units were kept.

"All of the alarms sounded, and everybody got out," Good said. "We were fortunate. This is the first night in about a week there has been a break in activities."

Last week, the building hosted a multiroom theatrical tour that 700 people passed through, members said.

"It's amazing that the fire didn't happen when all those people were in here," said Regan Albright, 16, who played an angel in the tour.

Police shut down Green Oaks Boulevard near Bowen Road while firefighters battled the blaze. Several hundred people gathered in Wimbledon Park across the street to watch while news helicopters circled overhead.

Congregants began showing up as word spread about the fire.

About 50 people formed a circle and began praying, some of them weeping. They sang a hymn as the wind shifted and the thick smoke, which was visible from north Arlington, swirled around the parking lot.

"It's amazing that the steeple is still standing," said Debbie Vance, a Sunday school teacher.

Pastor Russ Barksdale invited members into the main sanctuary for an impromptu prayer and song service.

"There is the illusion that we have things under our control," Barksdale told about 200 people in the pews.

"Remember, these are just buildings," he said. Then he pointed to his chest. "The church is in here."

Staff Writer Mary Mckee Contributed to This Report

Distributed by the Associated Press