LIBERTY, Mississippi — Fire investigators are trying to determine what caused a fire that destroyed a Pentecostal church in Liberty.
Liberty Rural Volunteer Fire Department Chief Murry Toney, who is also the Amite County arson investigator, said there was no obvious cause of Wednesday's fire at Liberty Pentecostal Church and no initial indication of foul play.
Toney tells The Enterprise-Journal (http://bit.ly/1nq6U1Z) that he's contacted the state fire marshal since a church was involved.
The church is located northwest of town on Highway 567.
The 25-plus member church congregation is grieving the loss.
"More than a home, it's where we worship God," said Shawnda Naquin, who reported the blaze just before 1 p.m. "Very special. Where I got married. It's where my three kids were dedicated."
"It was just like our home burned down; that's the way?I felt," said Angela Robins.
"It's like a family," added Debra Robins.
Assistant fire chief and county emergency manager Grant McCurley said firefighters first tried to battle the blaze from inside the building.
"Due to the progression of the fire, we immediately called our firefighters out due to safety reasons and did a defensive attack," he said.
The fire was mostly extinguished by 4 p.m.
Naquin, who lives next door, said she saw smoke and at first thought Pastor Lance Torrey might be burning leaves. Then she realized it was serious.
"I took off running and Miss Mary Cupit was behind me," she said.
Naquin called 911 and her pastor, who was in Liberty and on his way home to the parsonage next to the church.
"The church was totally intact when I got here," Torrey said. "It just went fast.
"We were in the middle of fixing to remodel the whole thing. The only wall we were going to take out is the only one (left) standing."
The church was established in November 1976 and the building completed a few years later. The sanctuary was notable for its fieldstone exterior.
The heat melted the vinyl siding on the side of the nearby parsonage but did not appear to do further damage.
"I'm so glad it didn't get the house," said Torrey's wife,?Christy. "I'm glad it didn't get the bus."
Pastor Torrey drives an?Amite County school bus that was parked by the parsonage. A church bus was nearby as well. Both escaped damage.
The church has been undergoing a gradual remodeling with new sound system, platform furniture and metal roof completed.
"We were fixing to totally remodel the sanctuary — new carpet, new ceilings," Torrey said. "I?had just remodeled the pastor's office. We were excited about going forward. I don't understand it, but God knows best."
Information from: Enterprise-Journal, http://www.enterprise-journal.com