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FEATURE NEWS

FIRE CLAIMS 100 YEAR OLD
CHURCH BLDG. IN STARTUP
Three residents unharmed.

December 29, 2011




Burned out hulk of the old Baptist Church building in Startup, WA. Chronicle photo.


Larger image of above. Burned out hulk of the old Baptist Church building in Startup, WA. Chronicle photo. CLICK TO ENLARGE


Close up view of what was the steeple tower. Steeple on top is gone. Chronicle photo. CLICK TO ENLARGE


Front of church building. Chronicle photo. CLICK TO ENLARGE


What the church building looked like before the fire. Chronicle photo circa 2009. CLICK TO ENLARGE
(STARTUP, WA) -- When the flames came Christmas day to consume the old Baptist Church in Startup, Washington right along Highway 2 here in the Sky Valley, they consumed more than old timbers and nails. They took with them a piece of Washington State and Sky Valley history.

That church building was over 100 years old. One can only imagine how many hundreds perhaps thousands of congregation members came and went over the years and how many dozens of preachers preached the good word from the pulpit there and baptized babies and married young couples and said words at the funerals of parishioners who had left this world for a better one and who drank coffee and ate cookies at thousands of church socials there.

The fire that consumed the historic church came very early in the morning Christmas day Dec. 25.

Several calls on it came into the Sultan Fire department with the first one coming in at 2:49 am. All the callers reported smoke and a red glow in the building.

A Sultan Fire department aid car arrived first on the scene as it was in the area on another call, “And they reported a church building with the roof on fire,” said Sultan Fire Chief Merlin Halversen.

“When I arrived from Gold Bar the smoke was so heavy I couldn’t even see the building,” said Halversen. The upper roof portion of the building and the steeple was raging with fire.

The church had been used for many years recently as a combination residential home and art gallery.

“I don’t think it was presently being used as an art gallery, I believe it was just being used as a residence,” said Halversen.

More units showed up from the Gold Bar and Monroe fire departments and heavy torrents of water rained down on the old church as flames lit up the night sky and smoke billowed high into the dark.

“It was good fortune for us that Startup recently completed their overhaul of their water main systems so we had a good water supply and that was very helpful,” added Halversen.

THE CHURCH STEEPLE COLLAPSES ONTO THE STREET

“Within the very first few minutes of my arrival and the arrival of the first units the church steeple fell from the building while it was on fire to 364th street. So what that told me was the fire wasn’t just a roof fire it was a fire that started on the inside of the building and had now penetrated the roof and was a major fire…it had flashed over (from point of origin) and the entire inside of the upper story of the building was on fire at that point,” said Halversen.

The deputy chief tried to get into the back of the building but the back courtyard of the building is fenced and walled so he got some bolt cutters and cut the chain on the fence lock and started beating on the back door to see if anyone was in the main floor which was below the fire.

He was in the process of trying to figure out how to force entry into the building when he saw three people inside that were moving about.

And being that this is an old church on fire, here’s the part of the story that may be somewhat of a miracle if you’re so inclined to think of things that way.

Those three adults, some or all of whom were the building owners according to Halversen, had no idea that a raging inferno was right above them and was looking to take their lives in short order.

They did not know until the deputy chief began banging on the door.

“They were asleep in there while the building was on fire and they didn’t know there was a fire (above them),” said Halversen.

He said he was told they normally sleep on the upper floor -- the one that was now a blast furnace of fire.

Yet they all got out safely and unharmed. Now how’s that for some incredibly good luck or…a church miracle perhaps?

The fire department eventually got the flames out and they were done mopping up the fire about 8:30 a.m.

Damage estimated by the fire marshal was $170,000 damage to the building and $30,000 to contents.

Due to the extent of damage Halversen said could take several weeks to determine the cause.

Fire officials do think the blaze started on the upper floor.

Where the owners would normally have been sleeping but for some reason were not asleep there when the fire broke out early Christmas morning.





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