Fire hits Clayton church for second time in a month
Posted June 6, 2009 6:21 a.m. EDT
Updated June 6, 2009 4:20 p.m. EDT
Clayton, N.C. — The steeple of a Clayton church collapsed during a fire early Saturday, a month to the day after another fire authorities believe was intentionally set struck the church.
Flames engulfed the building and poured out the roof when crews from several departments arrived at Mount Calvary Baptist Church, 5217 Barber Mill Road, shortly after 2 a.m., Clayton Police Chief Glen B. Allen said. Firefighters conducted defensive operations and brought the blaze under control in about an hour.
Church pastor Rev. Darrell Sauls said investigators told him there were two intentionally set fires – one in the previously-burned sanctuary and the other in the Sunday School wing.
“It’s more bewildering than anything,” Sauls said.
The fire destroyed repairs under way from the May 6 fire and likely damaged the structure beyond repair, police said. A damage estimate had not been completed.
“First, I just cried and wondered why someone would do it again,” church member Karen Bowley said. “Then I was just pretty numb.”
Allen said that this fire appears to have been intentionally set and that the method of operation appears to be similar to that of the earlier fire. The State Bureau of Investigation, federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and local fire marshal were assisting in the investigation.
In the May 6 fire, a church door had been forced open, and the church's community center, where a fire was also set, had also been broken into. Nothing was stolen, and in the early days of the investigation, police said they had a few leads but not a motive.
Allen said that a substantial reward has been offered for information leading to an arrest.
Anyone who saw suspicious vehicles or people near the church or along Barber Mill Road overnight or early Saturday should call the Clayton Police Department at 919-553-4611 or Clayton Crime Stoppers at 919-359-8479.
The approximately 100-strong congregation still planned to meet for worship Sunday, according to the church's Web site. The congregation will meet in the old sanctuary at Amelia Christian Church, 1696 Amelia Church Road.
After the first fire, the church held services in a local funeral home.
Verses were posted on the church's Web site Saturday to encourage members, including Isaiah 41:13: “I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”
Mount Calvary has had a congregation in Clayton for almost a century, and the building that burned was built in the 1980s, Sauls said.