The neighbor across the street heard an explosion, looked outside to investigate, and discovered the fire.
An old church and neighboring house were destroyed in a fire near Battle Ground in the early morning hours Monday.
Fire crews from Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue (CCFR) and Clark County Fire District 3 (FD3) were dispatched at 2:24 a.m. Monday (July 5) to a report of an old church on fire at 24209 NE 92nd Avenue in Clark County. The building was the old location of the Cherry Grove Church.
The neighbor across the street heard an explosion, looked outside to investigate, and discovered the fire. CCFR crews arrived six minutes later to find the second story of the church and the steeple fully engulfed in flames, with the house next door (part of the same property) being threatened by flames.
The first arriving battalion chief immediately called for more resources, bringing additional crews from CCFR, CCFD3 and crews from the Vancouver Fire Department.
Firefighters initially tried to make an interior attack on the fire but were forced back by the intense flames and heat. 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 related items contributed to fire growth because the crews could not get through the area to stretch hose lines.
The decision was made to switch to a “defensive” mode and fight the fire from outside the structure. As the fire continued to grow, embers were being carried by the wind into a large stand of timber east of the property. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and two wildland fire engines were dispatched to the scene. DNR firefighters 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 backyard of the church. Firefighters were further hindered by flames venting from a 200-gallon propane tank. 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 the pressure-relief valve would open, venting propane into the air and causing a large fireball. This went on for over an hour until the tank was out of propane.
There are no fire hydrants in the immediate area, so four water tenders were used to shuttle water to the fire from over a mile away on NE 219th Street.
All the firefighters on this fire had started their work shift the morning of July 4 and were already physically tired from running on multiple fires throughout the day. In addition to sending a fire engine, water tender and battalion Chief to this incident, the Vancouver Fire Department also sent a “Rehab Unit” to assist. Rehab Units are used on large events or during extreme weather for firefighters to cool off or warm up, and to take a break and rejuvenate.
Firefighters will remain on scene throughout the day to mop up hot spots and ensure the fire is fully extinguished.
No firefighters or civilians were injured in this fire.
According to the CCFR report, this is believed to be a human-caused fire. The Clark County Fire Marshal’s Office is conducting the investigation.
The neighbor across the street provided the fire investigator with security video of a vehicle pulling up to the old church, possible flaming material being directed at the church from the vehicle, and the vehicle speeding away. The fire investigator will be working with Clark County Sheriff’s deputies to examine the video and follow up what flaming materials were directed at the church.
Information provided by Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue.