Ala. Church Damaged by Fire After Lightning Strike

July 15, 2013
Fire heavily damaged the Opelika Trinity Presbyterian Church, but the sanctuary was spared.

July 14--Sunday morning the sanctuary at Trinity Presbyterian Church could be seen water-logged but undamaged by fire, which fire officials say is simply "amazing."

"The sanctuary was spared," Capt. Scott McBurney of the Opelika Fire Department said. "What was amazing to me was the sanctuary was saved. Last night, we thought it was gone because the roof had caved in. But there was a metal roof layer in-between."

A side door to the sanctuary looked charred from top to bottom. Inside the sanctuary Sunday morning, it sounded like rain falling as drops of water from the ceiling splashed down and rippled out across pooling water on the floor. The sanctuary ceiling was bubbled with water damage and heat, some sections of the ceiling missing. But the wooden pews, dark with stain, are still intact -- row after row after row. The white walls surrounding the sanctuary were noticeably still white. And all the brass chandeliers are still hanging from the sanctuary ceiling as are all the chandelier sconces hanging off the walls. The raised dais where Pastor Chris Duncan stood each Sunday delivering his sermons is still there.

McBurney says the entryway, sanctuary and cafeteria were water damaged but still intact. Meanwhile, the library and all its rare theological books are gone. Burnt pages could be seen scattered in rubble and ash where Trinity's library once stood.

Asst. Fire Chief Jaime Baca said a fireman stayed all night with the fire and the rest left at approximately 1:30 a.m. He said a firefighter will be on the scene all day Sunday putting out hot spots.

"We were able to save the hymn books and Bibles that were in the pews," Baca said. "We were able to save the grand piano and some choir robes."

Fire officials say lightning seems to be the cause of the church fire.

Robert Dean, head of church maintenance and church member, said he heard the boom from his house not far from Trinity.

"I live a half mile out and all at once I heard this pop-a-boom. It was like crack-boom," Dean said. "When I got to the church, my worst fears were realized."

He said Trinity sits on a 660-foot elevation.

McBurney says he's proud of the focus and dedication of the firefighters who worked steady through the night Saturday. Earlier reports had stated that a fireman was injured, but McBurney said it was only "leg cramps."

"They did an awesome job," he said.

Trinity Presbyterian Church, along India Road, is nestled on a hill surrounded by houses.

The congregation at Trinity was getting ready to celebrate the church's 40th anniversary in August. The historic church was built in 1973. Church members, which total 290, are expected to continue the celebration.

"We are so thankful to the firefighters for all they've done," Pastor Duncan said.

The church fire is currently being investigated by the Opelika Fire Department and the State Fire Marshal.

Copyright 2013 - Opelika-Auburn News, Ala.

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