A Monday evening blaze that destroyed a church in the Toast community was the result of “electrical failure in a breaker panel,” according to county officials.
Surry County Fire Marshal Doug Jones said the blaze, which destroyed Faith Baptist Church just off of Franklin Road, has been ruled accidental in nature, which concludes his office’s probe into the fire.
He said the church was insured, though he does not know the monetary value of the loss nor the size of the insurance policy.
The blaze began early Monday evening, with the first call about the fire reaching the Surry County E911 center at 5:33 p.m. Within minutes, firefighters and other emergency personnel began arriving at the scene, just south of Franklin Elementary School, according to John Shelton, emergency services director.
“It had already broken through the roof when they got here,” he said of the flames.
Calls for assistance went out, and more people responded.
Not only did the primary station, Franklin Volunteer Fire Department, respond, but so did 11 other volunteer departments from the county, Cana Volunteer from Virginia and the city of Mount Airy with its ladder truck, said Shelton.
“There was nobody there at the time it started,” said Shelton, so no one was hurt in the fire itself, although one fireman did suffer from dehydration while fighting the blaze.
“It was terribly hot,” said Shelton. Not only was it still about 90 degrees in general, but “it was a really hot fire.” The heat coming off the building pushed the temperature nearby to more than 100 degrees, with firefighters wearing heavy protective gear.
Luckily with so many volunteers coming to help, there were about 75 or so firefighters on the scene, so Franklin could start rotating them through in shifts, he said.
A rehab area was set up quickly where the firefighters could get some rest and fluids, said Shelton. Then they could go back and relieve someone else.
Rescue squads and the sheriff’s office also reported and assisted with traffic control on a heavily traveled roadway.
Because of the heavy smoke coming from the church and the close proximity to the elementary school, Shelton said that Surry County Schools was notified to shut down the ventilation system to prevent any smoke from being pulled inside.
Later fire personnel went through the school buildings and checked air quality to ensure that it would be okay for kids to return to school on Tuesday.
Shelton had no information on the cause of the fire late Monday evening. He said that would be investigated by the fire marshal’s office. As has become standard protocol in the case of any fire involving a place of worship, the State Bureau of Investigation and N.C. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has been contacted for their assistance as well.
This has been a busy day for fires, Shelton said Monday night.
That morning there was a fire in a residence on Park Drive that damaged a kitchen. Then while the church was still smoldering, some fire personnel were called away to put out a vehicle fire on the I-74 connector.
“It has been a busy summer for structure fires,” said Shelton, but luckily not as tragic as last year when there were fatalities.