21 September 2009

Blazing Chapel

My mom's church had a fire on Sunday. It was actually the top story in the Idaho State Journal today, though I haven't found nearly as much coverage online. Here's the sequence of events as I've heard it:

(1) Just as the 11:00 am service was getting out, people heard a fire alarm going off.
(2) The majority of the people left.
(3) Marky, Mike and a few of the ushers went looking around to try and figure out what was up with the alarm. Marky is my mom's secretary.
(4) Marky opened the doors to the small chapel and found the fire. Someone called 911.
(5) Mike attempted to use a fire extinguisher on the flames. Here I have conflicting information. My mom told me yesterday that he got it out ... the news report indicates that the fire department got there just in time to keep the fire spreading to the whole building. I'm thinking that my mom misunderstood.
(6) The fire department arrived, got the fire out, and spent the rest of the day trying to clear the smoke out of the building.

Here's one of the online reports:

POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) - Pocatello fire officials say the chapel of the First United Methodist Church in Pocatello was damaged in a fire started by a ceremonial candle.

Pocatello Battalion Chief Tom Sanford said firefighters were able to quickly knock down the flames, containing the fire to the room.

Sanford said the blaze apparently began when a ceremonial candle fell off a table after the congregation left the building Sunday, the Idaho State Journal reported. A church staffer noticed smoke and called emergency workers about 12:30 p.m.

Sanford said the chapel sustained extensive fire and smoke damage, and the rest of the building had some smoke and water damage. KHQ-Q6

That church uses two kinds of "candles." One is oil-filled with a wick. I'm told that the fire would have been much worse if it had been one of those that fell over while lit. The other is a spring mechanism. There's a white cover, and the candle sits inside on the spring. The spring pushes it up to where it can be lit, and the cover makes it look like a brand new pristine candle forever ... or at least until the spring gives out, the flame slips below and into the case, and no one realizes that the candle has not actually been blown out. Then something happens to knock the candle into a guitar case, and well...

Only one pew was damaged in the fire, as well as one guitar, all the hanging tapestries, a $5000 Kurzweil (electric piano), the altar, and who knows how much carpet, wiring, etc. My mom was making some noise about the cross on the wall not catching fire, which is a bit silly. Yes, the tapestries were just as high off the ground. They also catch much more easily. The cross is solid wood: the flames can't just lick across it to catch it on fire. The pews are also wood, and not that much thicker than the cross, and only one of them burned, despite being on the floor. Oh, there was also a regular piano in there. Despite most of the frame being burnt through, the keys were undamaged and it still plays just fine.

Minor historical note: that was originally the only chapel at that church. At some point, probably before I was born, they built onto the church and added a larger chapel. For the time being, that's going to be their only chapel. To be honest, I never cared much for the small chapel. It always seemed too crowded to me, even when there were very few people in it. I'm sure they're going to rebuild it. I'm not sure I see the point to rebuilding it, but I don't see the point to a lot of things associated with churches.

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