Crews from Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue and Clark County Fire District 3 dispatched at 2:24 AM to an old church on fire at 24209 NE 92nd Avenue in Clark County. A neighbor across the street heard an explosion, looked outside to investigate, and discovered the fire. When firefighters arrived 6 minutes later, they found the second story of the church and the steeple fully engulfed in flames.
Firefighters tried to make an interior attack on the fire but the intense flames and heat drove them back. Extreme clutter in the church and around the property made it difficult to stretch hose lines around the church or to the house. Hundreds of mannequins were posed throughout the yard and the church. According to Fire Chief John Nohr, the mannequins and other items contributed to fire growth, because the crews could not get through the area to stretch hose lines.
Firefighters switched to a “defensive” mode, to fight the fire from outside the structures. As the fire grew, the wind carried embers into a large stand of timber east of the property. They called for help from the Department of Natural Resources for crews that specialize in fires in forests, grassland, and other natural vegetation.
The fire eventually spread to the house next to the church and the sheds in the back yard of the church. Flames venting from a 200-gallon propane tank complicated the efforts. The tank was near the back wall of the church under a porch and stairway. As the flames heated the tank, pressure would build in the tank until it vented propane into the air, causing a large fire ball.
There are no fire hydrants in the area, so they had to shuttle water to the fire from more than a mile away.
The fire did not injure anyone.
The Clark County Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating this human-caused fire. The neighbor across the street provided the Fire Investigator with security video of a vehicle pulling up to the old church, and possibly directing flaming material at the church from the vehicle. Then the vehicle sped away. The Fire Investigator is working with Clark County Sheriff’s Deputies to examine the video and follow up what flaming materials were directed at the church.