A lightning bolt struck the historic Ararat Missionary Baptist Church at 211 Jones School Road Thursday afternoon, starting a blaze that destroyed the more than 100-year-old church.
Bystanders at the structure fire, which is located near the L.H. Jones Auditorium, said the lightning appeared to have directly hit the building’s steeple, followed by a thunderclap which shook the Family Resource Center. Some of the first members of the congregation arriving at the scene said choir practice had been scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday.
Mount Airy Fire Department Assistant Chief Chris Fallaw said the preliminary investigation results based on eyewitness accounts confirm lightning as the cause of the fire. The flames quickly spread through the church’s roof, which collapsed and pancaked in on the church sanctuary, causing firefighters to double their efforts at containment. These findings were also confirmed by Mount Airy Police Detective Brad Quesinberry.
Fallaw said the call for the fire was received at 1:10 p.m. with units dispatched at 1:13 and the first unit arriving on the scene over a minute later. In addition to Fallaw, investigators on the scene included Jody Seaver, Danny Vipperman and Trey Leonard. Around 30 firefighters were on the scene with more than four Surry County Emergency Medical Services personnel, four Mount Airy Rescue Squad members, Mount Airy Police Department officers and Mount Airy City Public Works personnel.
One firefighter was treated on the scene for heat exposure with no other results on his condition immediately available. The owners of the church were listed as the Ararat Missionary Baptist Church and Reverend Chad L. Mann.
Church member Faye Carter confirmed the structure was built in 1905 and the building had enjoyed a “whole lot of members in the past” with many of the worshippers now elderly. She said the church has 12 to 14 regular members.
“It was a small church and we just loved it. Everyone just loved coming,” said Carter. “It will be sadly missed, but by the grace of God we will try to rebuild. We know that God will see us through.”
Other units responding to the scene included the Franklin, Bannertown, Cana and Four-Way Fire Departments with Skull Camp Fire Department on standby, Surry County Emergency Medical Services, Surry County Fire Marshal’s office and the American Red Cross.
David Broyles may be reached at 336-415-4739 or on twitter@MtAiryNewsDave.