Monday, October 24, 2011
The congregation of St. Stephen AME Church was expecting to attend a service today honoring their stewards and trustees today.
Instead, they were awakened by the news that their historic church was fully engulfed in flames.
The fire at the historic church — pastored by State Rep. Carl Anderson — was reported at around 7 a.m. after nearby residents reported hearing a loud explosion.
Darrin Lawyer, a member of the church who lives across Winyah Street, said he called 911.
“I heard a boom that sounded like a car explosion,” he said. “I looked outside and the whole street was orange.”
Assistant Fire Chief Bill Johnson said the cause of the fire is unknown and the investigation has been turned over to the Georgetown Police Department.
Johnson said it will be up to police to determine if the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division needs to be called in to expand the investigation.
He said right now, because the building was fully involved in flames and partially collapsed when firefighters arrived, there is no way to know if the fire was ignited by an electrical problem or if arson is to blame.
“I will say this. It is very strange for us to arrive at a church fire that is so fully involved. It is unusual,” Johnson said.
City Councilman Rudolph Bradley, who arrived on the scene shortly after the firefighters, said he does not suspect arson.
He said members had reported smelling gas in the area of the kitchen recently and the stove uses natural gas.
Saturday, when a wedding was held in the church, was the first time the heat had been turned on in several months.
Bradley said the brick on the outside the church had been placed around an original wood siding which, he said, “acted like kindling” making the fire spread very quickly.
Johnson also said it appears the flames spread quickly through the attic portion of the building.
“It may take weeks or months to find out what caused it,” Johnson said. “Or, we may never know.”
Read much more on this developing story in Monday's Georgetown Times. See more photos on the Georgetown Times Facebook page.