Lightning strike causes fire damage inside Parkersburg church

Photo by Madeline Murphy Pastor Don Yeager of Southside Southern Baptist Church looks up at the steeple amazed that it is still standing after the lightning strike and fire on Monday.

PARKERSBURG — Members of the Southside Southern Baptist Church are feeling blessed to be able to hold their church services in their church after a fire, started by a lightning strike, caused an estimated $7,500 damage.

Southside Southern Baptist Church’s steeple was struck by lightning Monday around 7 p.m., said Capt. Jim Tracewell of the Parkersburg Fire Department.

“After receiving the phone call that the church was on fire, I drove to the church, imagining the worst,” said Pastor Don Yeager.

According to Tracewell, the fire department was called to 2006 Gihon Road at 7:01 p.m. after neighbors reported seeing smoke coming from the church.

Tracewell said it took firefighters eight minutes to extinguish the fire but that they stayed on scene for an hour to clear out the smoke.

Photo by Madeline Murphy Pastor Don Yeager stands in the bathroom, which is covered in soot from the fire burning above it.

“We were very blessed to have neighbors looking out for us, and a quick response by the firefighters to extinguish the fire. Fifteen to 20 minutes longer and we could have had a very bad fire on our hands,” said Yeager.

Mountaineer Power and Fiber Optics has been checking on the damage at the church.

Yeager said there was no structural damage to the church, mostly damage to insulation and wires.

The wire damage resulted in the telephones needing to be replaced as well as some sound system equipment, Yeager said. Damage costs will be covered by the insurance company, he said.

Yeager said the fire started after the lightning strike that hit the steeple traveled through the copper wire (lightning rod) used to redirect the lightning into the ground and stop the building from catching on fire.

Photo by Madeline Murphy Ruined insulation from the church attic.

“I have been with the department for 25 years and have never seen anything like this,” said Capt. Bryan Drake of the Parkersburg Fire Department.

The copper cord was wired through the building’s attic, and lying across some rafters, instead of being on the outside of the building only, said Drake.

When lightning struck, the part of the wire running along the inside sparked and caught those rafters being touched on fire, Yeager said.

“The wire was not long enough for the building, and it had been wired through the building as a shortcut to the ground, instead of being routed around the outside of the building only,” said Drake.

The “hot spot” was burning above the women’s bathroom, but luckily there was an attic access outside the first stall, said Yeager. The smoke led firefighters to the flames and the easy access to the attic helped keep the damage contained, said Yeager.

Photo by Madeline Murphy Outside vents had to be torn off to put out the fire. The white tubing contained copper wire, which contributed to the fire after a lightning strike to the steeple.

According to Drake, the fire department has responded to many fires started by lightning strikes, but never to one from a lightning rod.

Yeager said the copper wire is being rerouted to outside the building.

“The damage could have been so much worse. We were very fortunate the church building sustained such minimal damage,” said Yeager.

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