News Articles

SBC DIGEST: Fires devastate N.C., Ga. church buildings, spread across Maui

Firefighters from eight different departments responded to the fire that destroyed Proctorville Baptist Church in Robeson County during the severe storms that swept across North Carolina on Monday, Aug. 7. Submitted photo

Lightning-caused fire destroys N.C. church

By Chad Austin/Biblical Recorder

PROCTORVILLE, N.C. – A Robeson County church was destroyed in a massive fire sparked by a lightning strike Monday night (Aug. 7) as severe storms moved through North Carolina and across the East Coast.

Proctorville Baptist Church sustained significant damage during the blaze, with local fire officials declaring the church’s sanctuary and all of its contents a total loss. The church’s fellowship hall also sustained heavy smoke and water damage.

No one was injured during the incident, which began around 8 p.m. when lightning apparently struck the church’s steeple and quickly spread. Representatives from eight local fire departments responded to the blaze, which firefighters had under control by 11:23 p.m., according to Justin Hunt, Robeson County’s assistant emergency management director.

Hunt said high winds and the age of the facility contributed to the speed at which the flames spread. The church’s current sanctuary was completed in 1957, but the original sanctuary was more than 100 years old, dating back to the church’s founding in 1914.

The powerful line of storms that swept across North Carolina and much of the East Coast produced heavy rains, strong winds and multiple lightning strikes that resulted in widespread flooding, downed trees, canceled flights and numerous power outages across multiple states. The storms were also blamed for two deaths, one in Alabama and another in South Carolina.

Pastor Steve Johnson, who lives in the parsonage next door to the church, said he was eating dinner with his family when they heard the lightning strike. Shortly thereafter, they noticed what smelled like an electrical fire and started checking the house. Johnson opened the side door of the parsonage and was greeted by a black wall of thick smoke coming from the church.

“When we opened the door, it took our breath away,” said Johnson, who has served as Proctorville’s pastor for 18 years. “It looked like an inferno.”

With firefighters already arriving on the scene, Johnson began calling deacons to let them know the church was on fire. As news of the fire spread, church members and others from the community gathered to watch firefighters battle the blaze.

“It all went up pretty fast,” said Alan Taylor, associational mission strategist for the Robeson Baptist Association, who was one of the witnesses on the scene. “They got water on it almost immediately, but there wasn’t anything anybody could do.”

Several of those who gathered were longtime members of the congregation with strong family ties to the church. They laughed, cried and shared memories with one another and with Johnson. While they talked about the past, they also looked forward to the future.

“One lady came up to me and said, ‘Remember, that’s not the church. We are the church,’” Johnson said. The biblical principle is one that Johnson said he often shares as a reminder to the congregation.

Johnson said the church will hold a prayer service Wednesday night in the parking lot and will hold services this coming Sunday at a local community building as they seek God’s will for both the short- and long-term future of the congregation.

The church has experienced growth in recent months with average worship attendance doubling from about 50 on a given Sunday to now more than 100. Johnson said he wants the church to remain a visible presence in the community.

“The church is still present,” Johnson said. “The building is not, but the church is still here. God is going to do something great and wonderful with what’s happened.”

Fire destroys former Georgia Baptist church

By Christian Index staff

The sanctuary of Bethel Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ga., burns on Aug. 6, following a lightning strike. Southside Baptist Network Facebook photo

JONESBORO, Ga. (BP) – A lightning strike is being blamed for a Sunday evening (August 6) fire that gutted the former Bethel Baptist Church in Jonesboro.

Flames were shooting through the roof of the building, which is now home to Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal, when firefighters arrived.

Pastor Elfries Cortez said the fire broke out after Sunday evening services had ended and the congregation had left.

“I want to thank God that he saved the lives of 500 of these members,” he told Atlanta’s WXIA-TV. “The Lord has all the control to save our souls and our lives.”

Lois Hunter, who once sang in the choir, told the TV station that the church had been an important part of Clayton County for years and was like a second home to her.

“I’m just hurt,” she said. “This is a part of me.”

Cortez told WXIA-TV the congregation plans to rebuild.

“My vision is something bigger than this,” he said.

Hawaii wildfires kill at least 6, injure dozens

By BP Staff

LAHAINA TOWN, Hawaii (BP) – At least six people have been killed by wildfires on the island of Maui in Hawaii, The Associated Press reported, and parts of the island have been devastated.

“We woke early to devastating images of catastrophic fires in Lahaina Town on the west side of Maui,” said Craig Webb assistant executive director of the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention in written comments to Baptist Press. “There are fires in the south part of Maui in the Kihei area, upcountry in Kula, and brush fires on Hawaii Island (also known as the Big Island).

“Please pray.”

A fire in a historic part of Maui destroyed dozens of buildings, injured at least two dozen people and sent people jumping into the ocean to avoid the flames, AP reported.

    About the Author

  • BP Staff