Pam Kest was leaving Way Public Library in Perrysburg Tuesday when she saw a flash of lightning and heard a loud boom, drove around a corner, and saw the cross atop the St. Rose Catholic Church steeple go up in flames.
"Then five minutes later, I saw the cross fall," Ms. Kest, 48, of Maumee, said.
PHOTOS: St. Rose Catholic Church fire
"It was scary," she said awhile later as she and dozens of onlookers watched firefighters use three aerial ladders to douse the smoking steeple at 215 E. Front St. in Perrysburg.
Authorities said lightning struck a rod on the cross about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, setting the cross ablaze.
The first fire crews arrived minutes after the first call about the fire at about 10:39 a.m., according to a Perrysburg police and fire dispatcher.
No one was hurt in the lightning-induced fire, which was confined to the steeple of the 19th-century church, and was put out by about noon, with only minor water damage to the church interior's main entrance, Perrysburg Fire Chief Jeff Klein said. The damage estimate exceeds $200,000, he said.
Church officials said the church still will hold Easter services inside the building.
Matt and Sarah Hammitt, who live at 216 E. Front St. across from St. Rose, said they heard a "huge" boom and their television went out. Mrs. Hammitt called 911; Mr. Hammitt, who watched the smoke rise from the steeple, started videotaping the fire from his front steps and turned aside to talk to his wife just as the cross came crashing down from atop the steeple.
The large cross fell into the parking lot to the west of the church, close to where several firefighters were standing, Mr. Hammitt said.
"We are very fortunate no one was hurt," said Msgr. Marvin Borger, the church's pastor, who was at the scene.
"Life happens. ... Firefighters were fantastic [saving the building.] We're very proud of the building, but the church is our people, the ‘living stones,' as the Scripture says."
Some in the crowd that remained around the church about noon looked shaken.
"Oh, my goodness," Rita Rehard, 80, of Perrysburg, exclaimed while fighting back tears.
"Most of my kids went to school here and were baptized here," the parishioner of 56 years said. Nine of her 10 children had attended the parish school, she added.
School was not held Tuesday; students at K-8 school are on spring break.
"I just feel bad for the church, ... and it being around Easter time. It is very sad," said Alyssa Kalb, 30, of Ottawa Hills. She was pulling into a Welcome to Kazmaier's store parking lot across the street when she saw the cross fall, she said.
Firefighters from departments in Perrysburg, Perrysburg Township, Maumee, and Rossford dealt with the aftermath of the lightning strike.
The church was founded in 1862 and has more than 8,000 parishioners. The steeple is about 170 feet high and the wooden cross appeared to be about 6-feet tall and possibly was the original cross, Monsignor Borger said.
He added that he doubted that the cross' copper plating was the original.
"The good news is that the main part of the church was not damaged by fire or water, with the fire contained to the upper steeple," the pastor said after inspecting the damage.
That includes the historic pipe organ.
"The pipe organ was not damaged and we are doing a lot of covering it up to make sure no water drips on it," the pastor said.
The pipe organ in St. Rose Church is a historic, tracker organ built by Garret House of Buffalo, N.Y., in 1873, according to the church's Web site. Originally installed in the first St. Rose church building on the corner of Front and Elm streets, the organ was moved to the new church, built in the Victorian Gothic Revival style, upon its completion in 1892.
The organ was extensively refurbished in 1975 and 1976 by D. F. Pilzecker & Co., Organ Builders of Toledo, the Web site says.
Masses scheduled for Wednesday will be held in the school gym next door and the remainder of the week's Easter services will be held at the church, the pastor said.
David Yonke, Blade religion editor, contributed to this report.
Contact Mike Sigov at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6089.