by Lori Cathey and Danny Wade
A fire at a local church had emergency crews working for hours in frigid conditions last Saturday night. With temperatures in the 20s, the Humboldt Fire Department was dispatched at 9:18 p.m. to 701 Main Street to a fire at St. James Baptist Church.
Crews arriving on the scene saw heavy smoke and flames coming from the middle and back section of the church. No one was at the church at the time of the fire.
Humboldt Fire Department requested mutual aid from Gibson County Fire Department, Humboldt Rescue Squad and Gibson County EMS around 9:30 p.m. Firefighters and emergency personnel were forced to contend with sub-freezing temperatures as crews worked to extinguish the fire. It took more than six hours to put out hot spots within the church. According to HFD Assistant Chief Leroy Kail, the fire was under control at 1:53 a.m. Sunday morning and cleared by 3:30 a.m.
Firefighters were able to save the sanctuary of the church but the back half of the building was a total loss. Chief Kail said the sanctuary did suffer from smoke damage and a small amount of water damage but he expected it to be okay, just needing some cleaning.
Humboldt fire officials said there were no injuries reported although one fire fighter was treated for smoke inhalation and released.
As standard procedure on all church and house of worship fires, the Tennessee State Fire Investigation Section and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were called in to investigate.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation but foul play has been ruled out, according to Chief Kail. He said a state investigator was on the scene Saturday night and again on Sunday afternoon. ATF was also on the scene Sunday.
Church members held their Sunday services at the Humboldt Senior Citizens Center. Local churches have offered to assist and help St. James get back on their feet.
St. James is one of the polling locations for next week’s runoff election between Terry Johnson and Thomas Porter. Gibson County Administer of Elections Julieanne Hart said a secondary location will be used for the election due to the fire.
The election commission will meet this week to determine the location for St. James voters to cast their ballot. Letters will be sent to all voters in that precinct.