GARLAND — The doors to the sanctuary at Evening Light Holiness Church creaked open and closed Thursday as a chilly wind carried the odor of burning embers around the property, affording a peek past the brick facade of the gutted remains still smoldering a day and a half after a three-alarm fire claimed the place of worship.
The cause of the blaze at the nearly-century-old church that burned throughout the night Tuesday and into Wednesday morning will likely never be determined, according to Sampson Deputy Fire Marshal Prentice Madgar.
The fire marshal’s office investigated the fire, which was reported by a neighbor just after 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Garland Fire Department was the primary responding unit to the fire at the church, located at 1371 Garland Airport Road. They were assisted by more than a dozen units in three different counties, including Harrells, Autryville, Taylors Bridge, Clinton, Halls, Spivey’s Corner, Roseboro, Salemburg and Turkey in Sampson.
Along with the Sampson units, Magnolia Fire Department from Duplin responded as well as White Lake, Hickory Grove, Ammons, Bay Tree and Elizabethtown, all from Bladen. When units showed up, there was “very heavy smoke” billowing from the church.
Madgar said the blaze was a three-alarm fire, calling that level of response “pretty significant,” especially outside of hot, dry summer months. The additional alarms sound to other fire units in surrounding areas when existing manpower and water are diminished, or it is believed more resources will be necessary for a particular incident, in this case to contain the fire.
“It takes a pretty large building that’s pretty well involved to need that much manpower and water,” Madgar attested.
The last fire unit cleared the scene at 5:50 a.m. Wednesday, more than six hours after the call first came in. The Fire Marshal’s Office, including Madgar, was at the church site until 1:20 p.m. Wednesday, assisted by Garland and Taylors Bridge firefighters in tending to hot spots while the investigation was conducted.
In the end, no cause was able to be determined, or likely will be.
“It’s burnt so bad, there’s just not much left,” Madgar said, noting that an electrical cause could not be ruled out. “The church was 100 percent burned. There were no sections that did not sustain fire damage.”
The fire originated under the floor behind the righthand side of the sanctuary, in the area of one of the adjacent wings of the building that housed restrooms, he said.
The central portion of the church was originally built as a one-room structure in 1920 and, over the years, received some additions. A fellowship hall went up in the 1950s as a standalone structure, however in recent years a foyer was put on the front of the church and the remodeled wings housing the restrooms were used to connect the church and the fellowship hall. In all, the current structure was just under 6,000 square feet.
Evening Light Holiness Church, whose pastor lives in South Carolina, was in regular use, Madgar noted.
On Thursday, just a week and a half before Christmas, passersby could see yellow crime tape surrounding the church and two large heaps of gnarled metal piled up between the gutted church and its marquee, emblazoned with the words “Joy to the world the Lord has come.” While the front brick facade was resolute and the steeple still standing proudly, seemingly unsinged, the sanctuary and the rest of the church was charred rubble.
“It’s just a bad situation,” said Madgar.
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