Colleton County Fire-Rescue


05/29/2011 Structure Fire B Shift

Incident # 11-02951 - A change in routine, quick thinking on the part of parishioners and early notification contributing to saving the Peniel United Methodist Church Sunday morning 29-May. At 08:48 Fire-Rescue was notified of a fire in the church, located at 1590 Peniel Road at the intersection of Great Swamp Road. Engine 1, Medic 1 and Tender 1 arrived to find heavy smoke conditions coming from the older single story wood frame building. The IC found fire burning through the exterior wall on the B side of the building in the Sunday school portion behind the sanctuary. Smoke was coming from the eaves around the entire building and the steeple. The Pastor advised he and some church members had arrived early to turn on the air conditioning units, a routine that is usually performed on Saturday evening. Shortly after activating the units they heard loud popping noises and what was described as a small explosion, coming from the Sunday School Classroom containing the main electrical panel. Upon investigation, they found fire shooting across the small class room from the electrical panel. They correctly closed the classroom door, keeping the fire contained in the room, then alerted 9-1-1.

Firefighters arrived five minutes later to deploy two 1-3/4 handlines. One crew made entry through the sanctuary finding the fire burning up the inside of the exterior wall in the classroom. Using hand tools, they pulled down a portion of the wall, exposing the fire and quickly knocked it down with one handline. Crews removed the sheetrock covering around the breaker boxes and pulled the ceiling above the burned area to insure the fire had not extended into the attic. The fire had traveled a short distance across one wall, but was stopped. Damage to the room was light, but the electrical wiring suffered extensive damage. Firefighters used two positive pressure fans to ventilate the large structure and used two thermal imaging cameras to assist with the search for extension. The fire originated in the electrical panels. Had the units been activated at night and left running with no one in the structure, the outcome could have been very different. Severe thunderstorms from the previous evening could have been a contributing factor. Several lightning strikes in the area the previous evening had resulted in damage to homes, one of which was approximately one mile from the church. Coastal Electric Company responded to secure the power to the building.

Engine 1, Engine 19, Engine 2401, Tender 1, Tender 8, Tender 19, Tender 26, Tender 27, Medic 1, Ladder 19, Battalion 1, Car 117 and Car 118 responded. Battalion Chief Ben Heape served as Incident Commander.