Fire ravages historic church

Posted
Wednesday August 4, 2010

SOUTH LONDONDERRY -- No one was hurt as a raging inferno tore through the historic First Baptist Church of South Londonderry early Tuesday morning, firefighters said.

The 70 foot steeple at the front of the church, an icon of the area for anyone driving along Route 100, is no more.

At about 3 a.m., firefighters responded to a fire at 62 Crescent St., said Chief George Lang of the Champion Fire Station in South Londonderry.

Lang said the damages to the church are in the ballpark of $1.5 million. He added that the cause of the fire is still undetermined, but it is not believed to be suscipious.

When he arrived on scene, Lang said the building was entirely engulfed by flames and he knew it wasn't going to be easy to put out the fire.

"It was like a torch," he said. "There was a oil tank that kept feeding the fire and there was no way we could save the building."

The fire consumed the building in a matter of minutes, Lang said. The wood was old and dry, he added.

More than 100 firefighters from Jamaica, Townshend, Wardsboro, Mount Holly, Stratton, Ludlow, Rockingham, Manchester and others were all on scene, Lang said.

"It took no more than an hour and a half and it was gone," he said of the building. "We must have used more than 100,000 gallons to get the fire under control."

In Feburary, the church hired two new pastors, a husband and wife team, Chris and Kathleen Blackey, of Sanbornton, N.H.

Chris Blackey said he was in shock as he was awakened to the news that his church was on fire.

"Any reaction seems to be an appropriate action," Blackey said. "It's very hard to process the church is on fire."

In the five-plus months that he and his wife have overseen the church, the community has been amazing, he said.

"It's truly a wonderful community and we've felt nothing but support," Blackey said. "God is all about bringing good from tragedy and I know there's great things ahead."

Although it may take years to get over the loss of the church and what it has meant to the community, the congregation and church board will get together in the next few weeks to start plans to rebuild, he said.

"We want to rebuild but first we need to sit down as a church and figure out what we want the new building to look like," Blackey said.

Built in early 1834, the church was organized in 1811 as the town's first church just 30 years after the town of Londonderry was established.

A rear addition was added in 1880 and the basement of the church was finished in the mid-1950s.

"There was a lot of stuff in that church that can never be replaced, it was priceless," Lang said.

Among some of the lost items were eight stained glass windows, four of which were just recently replaced at a cost of $30,000.

There was also a century-old painting on the wall at the back of the baptistry which depicts Jesus with a lamb in his arms, portraying the finding of the lost sheep.

A prayer vigil was held Tuesday evening, when members of the congregation shared stories and memories, sang hymns and spent time with one another, mourning the loss of the church.

The church will maintain its website and keep its phone number running, Blackey said.

For more information on the church contact Chris and Kathleen Blackey at 802-856-7266 or visit www.firstbaptistlondonderry.org.

Josh Stilts can be reached at jstilts@reformer.com, or 254-2311, ext. 273.


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