SHENANDOAH — Shortly after 5 a.m. Wednesday morning, Pastor Ellen Martin received a phone call from a concerned church member.
The caller informed her that the church she had pastored for the last five years, Oak Grove United Methodist Church in Shenandoah, was in flames.
“It’s heartbreaking for me,” said Martin, as she fought back tears. “Some of these people have been there all of their lives.”
Firefighter Lee Kite of the Shenandoah Volunteer Fire Company said emergency crews were dispatched to the church at 2279 Fleeburg Road at about 5 a.m.
When firefighters arrived, heavy flames were showing from the red-brick church. “The back of the church was fully involved and there was light fire coming from the eaves in the front,” said Kite.
Because of the rural area, Kite said, there were no fire hydrants nearby, making it harder for firefighters to battle the blaze. “There was no water supply,” said Kite.
Kite said tanker trucks from Elkton, Grottoes, Luray, McGaheysville and Stanley fire departments were called to the scene to assist. The tankers drew water from Naked Creek and hauled it less than a mile to the fire scene.
The fire spread, and by 7 a.m. firefighters were forced to switch strategies. Firefighters, which fought the blaze from just inside the front door, were no longer allowed to enter the church.
“We switched to completely defense because the roof of the structure began to fall in,” said Kite.
Kite said the cause of the fire is unknown. The Page County Sheriff’s Office and the Virginia State Police are investigating the fire.
Firefighters said the building could smolder for several days, which will delay the investigation because it’s too hot to enter.
While the investigation continues, church members are left trying to salvage momentos.
Martin said the church has been there for more than five decades. About 50 members attend the church’s Sunday services, she said.
While the church was destroyed, Martin said, members hope to save the cross and the flame, the Methodist symbol. The church bell was saved.
Martin said services will be held at a sister church, Grove Hill United Methodist Church, just outside the town’s limits for the near future.
She said she has no doubts the church will be rebuilt. The congregation is faithful.
“They’re strong people and they’re determine peopled,” said Martin. “God has a plan. With the prayers of the people in the community, I know we will come back strong.”