Lawton_Lawton fire investigators say that they are narrowing down the cause of Tuesday's fire at Trinity Baptist Church. The 50-year-old building caught fire around 9 a.m., and fire officials say it caused $3-4 million worth of damage. The Fire Marshal's office said that the fire was accidental, and after three days of investigation, that has not changed, however they still are not ready to say exactly what started the fire.
Lawton fire marshals waited until Thursday to do most of their investigation to ensure that they didn't damage potential evidence. The insurance company sent a private fire investigator and an electrical engineer to assist in evaluating the cause of the fire to make sure that the church is not too dangerous for repair workers.
Extreme heat from flames that reached above and beyond the pulpit filled the sanctuary with smoke all the way to the rear - more than 26 rows back. It melted a garland at the back of the church, singed wreaths, and melted an exit sign - those are the things that did not burn. "The structure itself received pretty substantial damage, so there is potential for a partial roof collapse," said Fire Marshal Michael Wright. "It has a dropped ceiling, so there's insulation and ceiling tiles that could fall, so that's why we don't want anyone in that area."
The insulation sucked in water from fire hoses, weighing down the ceiling tiles which continued to fall on Thursday. However, they weren't the only things plummeting to the ground - the church installed chandeliers only a few weeks ago. The extreme heat caused links of metal chains holding up the lights to expand and loosen, sending many of the fixtures crashing to the ground.
Even if the fixtures that fell had stayed attached to the ceiling, investigators still could not use the lights to help them see in the dark. "Obviously the electricity has been shut off to the structure - that will remain the same," said Wright. "We don't want anything energized - while we're in there doing our work - to cause us injury or potentially be another ignition source for another fire."
Wright says this is the largest fire he has investigated, and they couldn't only look for the area with the most damage. "The bigger it is, the more complex it can be, the more time it takes to conduct the investigation," he said. "Any investigation is a slow tedious process, but the more ground you've got to cover, the more time it will take."
A structural engineer will be on the scene on Friday to evaluate whether the building will be safe enough to restore, or if they will have to tear down the church and rebuild. Construction workers boarded up windows as the attempted to separate the sanctuary from the remainder of the church building, and church officials hope to be able to use the children's wing and fellowship hall once they are clean. Meanwhile, the Trinity will have a service in the gym at First Baptist Lawton on Sunday at 10:50 a.m.
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