The investigation into what started a fire that destroyed a local place of worship Thursday evening is underway.
According to Pastor Fernando Betancourt of the Ministerios Tierra De Bendicion Church of God located in the 400 Block of Fifth Street, preliminary reports indicate the fire was accidental, caused by the burning of some debris around the building that ignited something inside one of the gutters going up to the roof.
“I’m still in shock, a little bit down,” Pastor Betancourt said Friday. “We had a lot of new things in there. Those are only material things. I’m grateful no one was injured.”
There had been a fire in the same building 14-15 years ago. That blaze damaged part of the building while this fire destroyed everything. Betancourt says he has approximately 200 congregants and the church on Fifth Street had been used for meetings for small groups but that no church services had been held there since the COVID-19 restrictions went in effect in March.
The pastor is inviting the community to attend a drive-in service this Sunday at 6 p.m. at the old Kmart building on 16th Street. Betancourt said they were in the process of converting that building into their new church but had not moved anything in yet.
“I feel bad for my congregants,” he said. “They really love the church, they’re supportive of the church. Many call it their second home. We are a church that is very united. What happened will not bring us down, but will make us stronger.”
Betancourt said the church was insured and that he is not looking forward to dealing with the insurance adjusters as they attempt to recover from what happened.
When crews arrived on scene Thursday evening, smoke could be seen coming from vents on the east side while flames were spotted coming from one of the gutters on the west side.
As the 12 on duty Douglas firefighters attempted to extinguish the fire, smoke suddenly increased and was soon followed by large flames shooting out of the roof.
The flames prompted Douglas police officers to begin immediate evacuations of the approximately 12 homes across the street from the church as well as some of those behind the church on Sixth Street. APS and Southwest Gas were also summoned to the area to shut off gas and electricity.
As the fire increased, the DFD’s position changed, working instead to keep it contained to the building that was burning and not allowing it to spread to nearby structures one of those being the Center for Academic middle school located in front of the church on G Ave.
As the DFD gained control of the blaze, personnel began to get released around 10 p.m. Ladder 1 and several firefighters remained on scene however, until after 5 a.m. Friday morning.
Several hours later the DFD responded back to the church extinguishing some hotspots that had flared up. While Ladder 1 was at the church, another call of a brush fire was reported in the area of 21st Street and A Avenue. DFD sent two trucks to that area and extinguished that blaze that was getting close to some mobile homes that were in the area.
Douglas Fire Chief Kevin Lomeli said no other buildings, other than the church, were damaged; no one was injured and over 500,000 gallons of water had been used to battle the blaze.
“This fire could have been much worse,” Lomeli said. “I thought our firefighters did a heck of a job keeping it contained and not allowing it to spread to other nearby structures.”
The chief said this fire would rank in the top three of all the fires in Douglas he’s dealt with over the years, the two store fires on G Avenue being one and two.