POMARIA — The cause of the fire that destroyed St. Paul Lutheran Church almost two weeks ago is still unknown and investigators are saying it could take a while due to the intensity and the size of the blaze.
“It could take a long time,” Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster said of the fire. “A lot of evidence was consumed or covered up.”
Pomaria Fire Chief Barry Richardson estimated that fire fighters used more than 300,000 gallons of water to fight the fire on Jan. 10.
“I have never dealt with anything of this magnitude,” he said.
Five arson investigators are working on the case but Richardson said he does not believe it was intentionally set. Foster said the investigation is being done daily and “a lot of people are working on it.”
Analysis of evidence recovered from the fire is ongoing.
Richardson said he thinks the fire smoldered inside the church then spread before it was noticed around 6:30 a.m. With a portion of the wood being old, it burned quickly.
Richardson said he had to make the decision to fight the fire from the outside instead of the inside to protect the lives of the firefighters.
“Standing there telling them not to pack out was the hardest thing I have ever had to do,” said Richardson, who was baptized at the church. “We were able to get through it without anyone being seriously hurt.”
The only injury came when a fire fighter fell and suffered a shoulder injury, he said. At least nine fire stations were on scene and members from every station in the county helped fight the fire.
Foster said investigators are staying in contact with the heads of the church and keeping them updated.
Church members are meeting in the old Pomaria Elementary School, which is owned by the Town of Pomaria, and will continue to meet there until a new sanctuary is built.