Members of the Lighthouse Baptist Church in St. George are trying to determine how to offset $50,000 to $70,000 in damages to the church from a Sunday night fire caused by an old electric can opener.
Pastor, Jim Lowry said the fire started around 8 p.m., and was discovered after a service by a member of the church’s basketball ministry, which meets to play on Sunday nights.
“One of the kids had gone to the kitchen to get some Gatorade and water for the players, Lowry said. “When he opened the fellowship doors, black smoke poured into the room.”
The fire was caused by the deterioration of a spring that keeps the handle of an electric can opener raised. After an extended amount of time the handle no longer stays open, causing an electrical current that heats up the machine until it combusts.
The fire was contained to the kitchen counter and the surrounding walls, but caused extensive smoke damage to the church’s kitchen, gymnasium and the newly repainted fellowship hall.
“The fire itself wasn’t big but the smoke damage was massive,” Lowrey said. “It melted pans, warped glass lids, took out microwaves and ruined a lot of food…everything is black and smelly.”
The fire was partially put out by Lowry and four other congregation and ministry basketball members including Rory Peddicord and David Robinson, who went into the blinding smoke in pairs with a third person holding a flashlight to illuminate the way. Others played a role in making sure the building was entirely evacuated.
“It was an instinct sort of thing to go into the fire with an extinguisher,” Robinson said. “That is my church and my second home; it was like protecting my house and family.”
Peddicord was not surprised by the temperature but by the lack of visibility after entering the kitchen.
“You couldn’t see the flames until you were standing in them,” Peddicord said.
The men worked in 10- to 20-second intervals to extinguish the flames before the firefighters arrived.
“The first time I ran in there, my first thoughts were, ‘I have a wife and two kids; what am I doing,’” he said. “After that all I thought was we need to get the fire contained before it gets to the gas stove.”
Even though the behavior was risky, it made all the difference.
“The firemen told us that we risked our lives by fighting the fire but if we hadn’t we would have lost the whole building,” Lowry said. “I agree that it was foolish, but if we hadn’t we would have lost everything.”
With the church being the former St. George Grade School, the entire building is equipped with alarm and sprinkler systems in case of a fire; however, none of those alarms or sprinklers were triggered.
“In the grand scheme of things, it is probably better they didn’t go off,” Lowry said. “The water damage would have destroyed everything but saved the building.”
The church’s insurance will pay for most of the damages and restoration work has already begun so the church can hold its weekly Wednesday night community meals, starting tonight.
Lowry estimates it will be six to eight weeks before the entire church will be returned to its full, working state but is very appreciative of the support that has already come in from the community, congregation members and local businesses.
“The very first phone call asking to help came in before the fire trucks arrived,” Lowry said.
The church is the hub for other events and organizations that meet each month including a quilting club, food pantry, numerous senior workshops and sports practices, all of which will be affected until the entire building has been restored.
“As far as the church goes it was the worst thing to happen at the best time,” Robinson said. “Had we not had the basketball ministry there we would have lost our church; God doesn’t put anything on you that you can’t handle and in the end it will be a blessing —I’m not sure how yet but it will be — we just need to follow the path.”