Church saved after lightning strike sets it on fire

Published 7:14 pm Monday, August 13, 2018

PANTEGO — A historic Pantego church narrowly escaped destruction Saturday after lightning stuck its steeple.

The 911 call came in at about 3 p.m. as a series of thunderstorms hit the county, and a neighbor witnessed lightning strike the steeple of Pantego Christian Church, according to Chris Newkirk, director of fire/emergency management for Beaufort County Emergency Services.

“They described it as just an explosion. It blew off part of the steeple,” Newkirk said. “There were visible flames from the steeple.”

Pantego and Belhaven volunteer fire departments, along with Washington Fire Department, responded to the fire at the church.

Newkirk said the departments’ quick response and deployment of Washington’s ladder truck allowed firefighters to contain the fire to the steeple. The ladder truck has the ability to lift firefighters up to 110 feet, so fires can be fought at greater heights, he said. The church was built in 1830, and firefighters managed to prevent the fire from spreading to the attic space.

“That’s a very small church and a very small community, and it was pretty traumatic for the community,” said Lisa Williams, Beaufort County Emergency Services emergency management administrator.

“They saved that church, which is a miracle — just the fact that they were able to save that church and did not lose its history. … It was teamwork at its best,” Williams said.

Newkirk said the strike was a random incident, one that’s  unfortunately not uncommon.

“Naturally, any time we have those popup thunderstorms, know that lighting is going to be a part of it,” Newkirk said. “It is a concern this time of year.”