Cause of Hamlet church fire unknown

By: By William R. Toler - Editor

HAMLET — A century-old church sustained damage to the sanctuary and a center stained glass window following a fire early Friday evening.

A neighbor, recently home recovering from a heart attack, happened to look out and see smoke coming from First United Methodist Church on Charlotte Street, according to Pastor Deb Wilkins.

“He called the fire department, the police department and they were here in no time,” she said, standing on the icy road in subfreezing temperatures as firefighters worked to put out hot spots.

Assistant Fire Chief Richard Lassiter had just taken Wilkins inside to view the damage.

Wilkins said the fire started around 6:45 p.m. and no one was inside at the time.

Hamlet Fire Chief Calvin White said the fire started under the High Street side stained glass window near a floorboard heater, but added that the church uses central heat and air.

The Rockingham Fire Department was “called right away” to bring its ladder truck and make sure there was enough equipment on scene in case the fire got out of control, he added.

“Thank goodness my guys got in there and got a good knockdown on it” to keep the damage to a minimum, White said.

Several Hamlet City Council members were also outside the church, including Councilman Jesse McQueen, who remarked how there were only four firemen on duty at the time, but other full-time firefighters and volunteers responded to lend a hand.

The sanctuary received “pretty extensive” damage, including the stained glass window, the nearby wall and smoke damage throughout, White said, adding that there was still a lot of cleaning and repairing to do.

“It’s going to be an expensive fix to get the church back to where it was,” he said.

According to a program for its Centennial Night in 1977, the current church was built in 1906 and enlarged in 1914. The sanctuary was remodeled in 1953.

Wilkins said Sunday services will be held in the chapel of the education building

“Our neighbor, the First Baptist folks, just invited us to worship with them if we needed to,” she said. “But we have the chapel, have the fellowship hall, so we’re covered. We will be in worship Sunday.”

The exact cause of the fire is still unknown and an agent with the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation was en route late Friday night to inspect and determine whether or not foul play was involved.

Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 or [email protected]

By William R. Toler