Fire officials said the furnace in the basement of Piedmont Baptist Church in Yancey Mills is the prime suspect in a Nov. 19 fire that climbed the rear wall of the sanctuary and sent black smoke billowing out the back of the church and from its front bell tower.
County Fire and Rescue Chief Dan Eggleston said a report of the fire came in at 10 a.m. from a passing motorist that described the fire as “burning fiercely.” Firefighters found the floor and ceiling on fire, he said, and knocked the flames out.
“We’re fortunate somebody noticed it early,” said Eggleston. Because churches are typically unoccupied, fires in them often get a head start that firefighters cannot overcome. “The fuel oil heating system seemed to be part of the fire,” said Eggleston. “All evidence points to that.”
“They put a lot of water in there,” noted Charity Walker of Crozet, the church’s Sunday school teacher, who dashed over to the scene after a neighbor passed along the scanner talk.
“We’ll definitely come back from this,” said church clerk Sandy Wood, a life long member, who watched fretfully from across Half-Mile Branch Road, which police had cordoned off. “It’s devastating. We had a fire in the 50s and there was one before that. The Lord brought us back from both of those.” She was anxious to see the interior.
Piedmont Baptist celebrated its 139th anniversary in October. “This is the mother church of all the Baptist churches in this area,” Walker said. It has 50 active members.
Eleven heavy firefighting trucks responded to the fire. Crozet volunteers were supported by crews from Rockfish Valley, Charlottesville, North Garden and East Rivanna.