Area fire departments responded to a fire, which is suspected to have been a case of arson, early Saturday morning at the Holy Angels Roman Catholic Church in Mount Airy. Though the building was unusable, congregation members still gathered for Sunday Mass the following day.
According to Father Lawrence Heiney the fire broke out in the doorway and awning of the church’s fellowship hall just before 4 a.m. Saturday. Heiney said that the fire was contained to that area of the building. However, power was cut-off to the church as a result of the fire, forcing the congregation onto the lawn for Sunday Mass.
“The people of the congregation have responded well, though some are just upset that it happened,” said Heiney. “We had the best Sunday possible, given the circumstances.”
Though Heiney said it’s “always a little confusing” when service is relocated, he was glad to see the show go on.
Heiney also said that he’s not sure when the congregation will be back inside. In addition to the fact that the power is turned off to the building, Heiney said the congregation has grown so large that it can no longer use the sanctuary portion of the church for services. Thus, it was holding services in the fellowship hall.
According to Heiney the first effort at cleaning up the damage at the church began on Saturday. However, he’s now waiting for a county building inspector to give the OK for power to be turned back on and an inspector from the church’s insurance company to look at the damage prior to proceeding with repairs.
The Mount Airy Fire Department assessed the damage at the church at about $20,000, according to a state officials there released. That department, Four Way Fire Department, Bannertown Fire Department, Franklin Fire Department, Mount Airy Public Works, the Mount Airy Police Department and Surry County Emergency Services all responded to the fire.
According to Mount Airy Fire Chief Zane Poindexter “the evidence, at this point, leads us to believe it was a set fire.” However, Poindexter said that his department, the Mount Airy Police Department, the State Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are all still working on the investigation.
Heiney said that though the arson is unfortunate, the fire could have been much worse. In addition to the fact that nobody was injured in the blaze, Heiney said that a fire wall likely saved the entire building from going up in flames. Poindexter called the instance a perfect example of why following building codes is so important.
“The complete block wall on the outside of the building kept the fire from entering the building. It kept the inside of the building pretty much free of fire damage,” commented Poindexter. “It’s a perfect illustration of why fire walls are so important in construction.”
As for a motive for what seems to be an arson, Heiney said he’s at a loss for an explanation. “I have no idea why anybody would want to do this,” remarked Heiney.
Andy Winemiller is a staff writer at the Mount Airy News. Andy can be reached at (336) 415-4698 or firstname.lastname@example.org.