Seventh-day Adventist Church Destroyed by Fire
, senior reporter, adapted from Echo
A church was gutted and homes evacuated after a fire hit Westcliff, South-end-on-sea in Essex, England, on Monday, March 10, 2014.
Firefighters were called to the Seventh-day Adventist Church about 4:15 a.m. as flames ripped through the church. There were fears the fire could spread to neighboring buildings after the blaze reached the top floor window of the property next door.
About a dozen people were evacuated from nearby homes as the fire threatened to spread. Resident Jason Rayment, said, “I just thought it was a car alarm going off. Then the guy who lives opposite knocked on the door about 4:00 in the morning. He was banging and shouted through the letterbox saying the place next door was on fire. I had a quick look around and there was basically an inferno. I knocked on everyone else’s doors.”
Five residents of nearby flats waited on the street until the smoke had cleared before going back. Isabel Ehlers, was told to leave her house with her husband, Lennart, and their three children, aged 11, 9, and 8. “I could see the flashing lights. My husband said, ‘There’s a massive fire next door,’ and it was really quite hot. We weren’t in any danger really, but it was quite a scary thing to happen.”
A neighbor opposite put her family up in their house while the Ehlers waited to be allowed back into their own home. Five people were examined by paramedics, but none needed hospital treatment.
Fire crews spent nearly an hour and a half putting out the blaze. They returned about 9:00 a.m. to dampen the debris after police spotted smoke billowing out of the church.
A police spokesman said, “Police have been liaising with the Fire Service over the cause of the blaze and believe that it was started deliberately.”
Trevor Thomas, pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, was still waiting to be allowed to look inside when the Echo spoke to him. He said it was too early to know the full implications of the blaze, but that in the short term its weekly Sunday meals for the homeless and an educational program for children would have to be stopped.
The congregation also regularly collects for people in other countries, something Thomas hopes can continue.
The church has hosted between 25 and 45 homeless people for a meal every Sunday between 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. for the last 21 years. “I’m afraid that will have to be put on hold until alternate arrangements can be made,” said Thomas.
As for the future of the church itself, he said: “I’m still waiting to be able to see inside. All I can say is that God is good, He will provide a way for us to go forward, our church is part of the community here, and part of the community of churches in the area. I usually find when something of this nature happens local churches rally together and I hope that will be the case here.”
Thomas said some activities may be moved to congregation members’ homes. “We were actually just looking into innovative ways we could reach out to the community.”
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