Altus_A bolt of lightning set an Altus church on fire Wednesday night, and a firefighter was injured battling it. Altus firefighters were on their way to another call when they say they saw flames shooting out of the roof of the First Christian Church. More than ten hours later, crews were still fighting the flames, but the fire was so fierce that they were unable to save the building. The firefighter who was injured in the blaze was hurt by a wall that collapsed on him after entering the burning building. He was taken to the hospital, and fortunately treated and later released.
What began as a stormy night in Altus, turned into a firey morning and afternoon for the First Christian Church congregation. A neighbor of the church saw the lightening bolt that started the fire. "I thought, woo that was close," she said. Close it was - she soon saw flames pouring out of the church roof. "I said, Holy cow!' i just kept saying, ‘Oh my goodness, holy cow.'"
Pastor Jim Brown watched as his house of worship crumbled to ashes. "Over about an hour it engulfed our sanctuary," he said. "Then they tried to stop it from spreading and it was just too intense." Only the outside stone of the building managed to withstand the flames and intense heat. "We're looking at a lot of destruction - a lot of history that's been gone, a lot of things we hold dear that can't be replaced," said Brown. "It breaks my heart, and it breaks the heart of these people who go to this church."
Firefighters from Altus, Friendship, and Altus Air Force Base gave their all to stop the fire and are still battling it more than ten hours later. "When you've got a building that large with that big of a fuel load that had already been burning and vented itself out the roof, it's hard to get out of control," says Altus Fire Department Chief J.R. Wheeler.
Eventually, firefighters had to use backhoes to tear down what was left of the fire ravaged building. "[The congregation is a] very resilient group of people," said Pastor Brown. "This is just a family oriented church, so they'll look at the situation and make wise decisions, and we'll handle our future with God at our side doing the things we believe we're supposed to do."
Pastor Brown says he has already received a number of calls from other churches offering a temporary place of worship in the wake of this disaster. He says the building was insured, and the congregation will help decide on re-building plans. This is the second fire to destroy an Altus church within the last three years. The Thomas Street Church of Christ burned down in the winter of 2005.
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