Fire fighting officials are saying there is no evidence of foul play in a blaze which broke out Sunday evening at a local church, destroying one building at the local.
The fire destroyed a sanctuary at Bannertown Baptist Church, but firefighters were able to subdue the flames before they could spread to the main building.
The fire broke out at about 6:45 p.m. Sunday, and personnel from the Mount Airy Fire Department and neighboring volunteer departments responded.
Smoke could be seen from miles away, billowing from the structure, which was identified as the “old sanctuary.” By about 8 p.m. flames had engulfed the building.
According to Mount Airy Fire Chief Zane Poindexter, no one was injured in the blaze. Poindexter said, though the cause of the fire is officially “undetermined,” there was no evidence of foul play at the scene.
Poindexter said the location of the fire made it difficult to fight, and once all people on scene were safe and accounted for, firefighting efforts focused on simply saving the rest of the church property.
“The fire started in the back part of the building,” explained Poindexter. “We tried an aggressive attack, but once a fire is in the attic it becomes very dangerous to fight and can spread quickly.”
Poindexter said the attic’s open space and dry wood made it a perfect place for the fire to grow out of control, and the risk of collapse would have endangered the lives of firefighters on scene.
“We decided to back out and make our stand at the breezeway connecting the old sanctuary to the remainder of the building,” said Poindexter.
Poindexter and company were successful in saving the main church structure. However, the loss of the old sanctuary accounts for about $475,000 in damage.
A member of the church said the building that was destroyed housed Sunday school classrooms and played host to the church’s youth group.
Church deacon Sam Holder said a youth ministry program is to thank for keeping the damage as low as it was.
“A youth group was in there Sunday night,” explained Holder. “They had been outside for about 30 minutes when the youth minister’s wife noticed the smoke.”
Holder said nerves ran high as the fire threatened to overtake the entire building.
“It was touch and go as to whether we were going to lose the entire church,” said Holder. “The blessing was that somebody was there to call the fire department right away and nobody was hurt.”
According to Holder, a “clean-up contractor” already assessed the damage to the remainder of the church and determined that the smoke had damaged carpet and upholstery beyond repair. The church could be closed for six to eight weeks in order to scrub surfaces, replace carpet and upholstery, and repaint the entire structure.
Holder said a meeting of the church deacons and other officials was scheduled for Monday evening. While there was no plan yet in place for worship services, Holder said a number of area churches had already reached out, offering their venues for use by the Bannertown congregation.
Using area school gymnasiums for worship services may also be a plan, according to Holder.
Poindexter said a number of other area organizations responded to the fire and aided in the efforts, including the Bannertown, Four Way, Ararat, Franklin and Cana Volunteer Fire Departments, the Mount Airy Rescue Squad, Surry County EMS, the American Red Cross, Duke Power and the Mount Airy Police Department.
Andy is a staff writer for The News and can be reached at (336) 415-4698.