The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Fire heavily damages Culpeper church
An early morning fire at a rural Culpeper County church may have caused up to $1 million in damages.
No one was hurt, but Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office fire investigator Steve St. Clair estimated damage from the New Salem Baptist Church blaze to be at least half a million dollars and “maybe as high as $750,000 to $1 million.”
“There is a lot of major structural damage to the center of the building,” St. Clair said.
The investigator believes that the blaze began in an office area behind the baptismal and likely smoldered for two or more hours before an alarm was received about 5:20 a.m. Monday.
“As I understand it, there were people here until about 9:30 last night,” St. Clair said, adding that “The fire doesn’t appear to be intentional.”
He would not speculate as to whether its origin was electrical in nature.
Several church members, including Lisa Dodson, wife of the pastor, said that smoke was pouring out of the steeple before the blaze was brought under control. Six volunteer fire companies responded, from as far away as Madison County.
The entire back portion of the structure, including Sunday-school rooms, the kitchen and the office area, suffered major fire, smoke and water damage. This part of the church was built in the mid-1950s.
The 61-year-old sanctuary, added on in 1962, suffered mostly smoke damage, with its white walls now a sooty black.
The heat in this area, about 50 feet from the blaze, was so intense that it melted the plastic globes of light fixtures hanging from the ceiling.
According to church member Ruth Updike, New Salem will likely continue to hold services in the fellowship hall, which is connected to the main building by an enclosed hallway and suffered no damage.
“It is the people that make up the church, not the building,” Shiloh Baptist Association Director Lanny Horton said while assessing the damage.
It was not the first fire at New Salem, located about 5 miles west of Culpeper on Sperryville Pike. Union forces torched the building during the Civil War.
“The government gave us $1,000 in restitution for that act,” Updike said.
Insurance claims will be much higher for the damage in Monday’s blaze.
Donnie Johnston: firstname.lastname@example.org