Norman Dudson, with the Sophia Area Fire Department, looks over the remains of the Hilltop Baptist Church, which was destroyed by fire early Monday morning.
Photo credit: Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald
The Rev. Patrick Haynes spent the night at his church Monday - watching it go up in flames.
Hours later, the Crab Orchard pastor urged his congregation and those in the community not to despair.
"What we want the community to know is that we will move on from this," said Haynes, pastor of Hilltop Baptist Church.
"We'll rebuild, and we're still here as a church to minister to Crab Orchard, Mabscott, MacArthur and Sophia areas."
He said that he and his wife trust God to provide a new worship facility.
Approximately $1 million in damages was incurred after the fire - which raged for more than six hours and destroyed the two-story church facility - was extinguished, State Fire Marshal Inspector Roger York reported.
"It's a good-sized church," York described. "The church itself is three buildings. They are separated at a certain area but come together at another area."
Flames destroyed the roof and both floors of the church, he said.
Firefighters from Sophia Area, Sophia City, Lester, Coal City and Beaver fire departments worked to put out the fire, York added.
"We had two explosions occur during the time the fire departments were here," York stated. "We don't know what caused those."
The fire marshal added that crews - including FBI investigators - are examining the scene to determine the cause of the fire.
"We're looking at natural gas furnaces," he stated, adding the origin point of the fire has already been determined by investigators. "I understand they did have some previous repair work to one of the furnaces, so we're going to check things of that nature (today) for accidental causes."
It is too early to judge if the fire was deliberately set, York said. Two church vans were slightly damaged by the heat from the fire, he added.
York said an alarm warned the Raleigh County Emergency Operations Center of the fire around 12:35 a.m. and that the fire marshal's office arson hotline was notified later Monday by the EOC.
Investigation into the cause of the fire will continue today, stated York.
Haynes said the fire started in the fellowship hall.
"An explosion was heard (Sunday) night, around 11:50," the pastor said. "One of our elders was on the scene at 12 a.m., and my wife and I went to the scene and were there throughout the night."
He added until a new church facility is located, the congregation of Hilltop Baptist Church will meet at its Midway facility, located at the old Midway Elementary School.