March 14, 2012

08CN: Fire Racks Up $500K in Damage at Chestertown, Maryland, Church

Fire Racks Up $500K in Damage
at Chestertown, Maryland, Church

Two-alarm blaze drew 60 firefighters; renovations planned

BY MARK A. KELLNER, news editor

An early morning two-alarm fire February 21, 2012, at the Chestertown, Maryland, Seventh-day Adventist Church gutted the interior of the 67-year-old sanctuary, temporarily displacing members of a congregation formed in the midst of World War II.

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 CHURCH AFLAME:  Flames shoot out of the sanctuary of the Chestertown, Maryland, Adventist Church in the early-morning hours of February 21, 2012. No one was injured, bu the blaze caused an estimated $500,000 in damage. PHOTO: Courtesy of Capt, Larry Slage, Chestertown VFC

Damage is estimated to exceed $500,000, Kevin McDaniel, the congregation’s pastor, said. Maryland state fire investigators said an electrical problem in an old organ was likely to have caused the blaze, several media reports indicated.

The nearby Garnett Elementary School was closed because of smoke drifting over from the church fire. The school reopened the next day.

“Buildings can be replaced; it’s the people that are the church,” McDaniel told Adventist Review in a telephone interview. “The church is still here; it’s the building that’s out of commission.”

According to fire officials and media reports, the local volunteer fire company responded to the call. On seeing smoke and flames shooting from the building, a second alarm was sounded, drawing reinforcements from the Queen Anne’s, Maryland, and New Castle, Delaware, fire companies. A total of 60 firefighters responded to the blaze, which was brought under control in about 90 minutes.

Two ladder trucks were used to ?gain access to the roof, from which smoke and flames shot out. The suspect organ, a baby grand piano, at least one stained-glass window, and the church’s pews were among items lost in the fire.

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 AFTER THE FIRE: Chestertown, Maryland, Volunteer Fire Company Chief Bruce Neal, left, and Adventist pastor Kevin McDaniel survy the damge. PHOTO: Chesapeake Conference.

The Chestertown church, organized at the height of World War II, when Seventh-day Adventist evangelists held meetings, including a tent crusade, in the town, has 85 members, McDaniel said. The building, whose sanctuary was renovated in the mid-1970s and to which an addition was constructed in 1980, also held many memories.

“One woman was there” at the church after the fire, he said, telling McDaniel, in tears, “ ‘I was married in that church.’ ”

On the Sabbath following the fire, the Chestertown congregation met with a nearby Adventist church in Rock Hall, Maryland. The next day a business meeting went on as scheduled, but at a Chestertown funeral home.

McDaniel hopes the addition, which did not sustain heavy damage, will be cleaned and available for use as a temporary worship facility in about two weeks. He noted that several area non-Adventist churches have offered their sanctuaries to the Adventists if needed.

And while the fire consumed physical items as well as more than a few memories, McDaniel is glad no one was injured. He views the fire as a potential opportunity for the congregation.

“Sometimes these tragedies are something that can pull you together,” McDaniel said. “I’m telling our people to press together and be united.”