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Published: Friday, 7/20/2012

Lightning likely in huge fire at church


EDGERTON, Ohio -- A fire that resulted in extensive damage to a 150-year-old church this week was caused at least indirectly by a suspected lightning strike, fire Chief Scott Blue said.

An insurance investigator inspected the Edgerton United Methodist Church on Thursday and could not confirm a direct lightning strike, Chief Blue said. But even without a hit, "it was probably an electrical issue that was associated with all the lightning we had," he said.

The fire was reported about 11 p.m. Tuesday. Arriving firefighters noticed that from the top of the three-story-high church, "heavy smoke [was] pushing out of every conceivable opening, but no flames," Chief Blue said. Fire was discovered in the steeple tower and attic, and after crews went inside, "within minutes there was fire everywhere up top."

With calls for mutual aid, 15 departments were on the scene or standing by and 100 firefighters were at the church in the Williams County village. The effort overwhelmed the town's water system, and six tankers brought in water from as far away as Auburn, Ind., and Angola, Ind., Chief Blue said.

"It was [as] much help as I've ever called to any scene, and I've been on the department 40 years," Chief Blue said.

The fire was under control within six hours. One firefighter was hit by falling debris. Another got overheated. Both were treated at area hospitals.

On Wednesday afternoon, after a contractor knocked down the steeple, firefighters noticed what at first seemed to be dust from the falling tower.

"Once we got looking, darned if it wasn't smoke," Chief Blue said. "It was a hidden pocket [of fire] from a wall way up in the attic."

That blaze was extinguished in short order.

Chief Blue estimated the loss at about $1 million. A structural engineer will visit today, but so far the building appears salvageable, Chief Blue said. The decision on saving it will be up to the church board, he added.

Because of the fire, Sunday worship will take place at the congregation's companion church, Emanuel United Methodist Church, which is south of Edgerton on Kramer Road east of State Rt. 48, according to the Facebook page of Edgerton-Emanuel United Methodist Church.

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