A former church and the house next door burned down in an early morning fire in Battle Ground that officials say may have been sparked by fireworks.
Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue was dispatched around 2:24 a.m. Monday to the old Cherry Grove Church in the 24200 block of Northeast 92nd Avenue after a neighbor called to report he’d heard an explosion.
When crews arrived, they found flames in the steeple and attic of the church, according to Fire Chief John Nohr. Crews couldn’t get onto the property or inside the church to extinguish the flames because of heavy clutter in the surrounding yard, including hundreds of mannequins.
The Clark County Fire Marshal’s Office recovered video that appears to show someone driving up to the old church, parking and then shooting something flammable at the building, potentially fireworks, according to Nohr.
The fire marshal’s office is investigating and has not confirmed the cause of the fire.
Steve Slocum, the owner of the property, was sitting on the back porch of the church and his home with his nephew when they heard a loud bang, he said. Slocum’s nephew started shouting that the church was on fire. Solcum also called for help and grabbed a fire extinguisher before firefighters arrived. Still, he lost everything he owned.
“It’s like, you know, I hope you got a real good thrill because I’m going to have a lifetime of misery from this,” Slocum said.
Crews prioritized defending surrounding areas, but the church, the home on the property — a three-bedroom ranch home built in 1950 — and several vehicles and outbuildings in the yard were destroyed in the fire. No one was injured.
A 200-gallon propane tank next to the church also blocked firefighters as it vented flames and propane for over an hour because of the pressure built up inside from the heat, according to the fire department.
Ten engines, one ladder truck, four chief officers, four water tenders and one rehab unit responded to the fire from Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue, Clark County Fire District 3 and the Vancouver Fire Department. They called in for a rehab unit because the battle lasted several hours and because the fire began after a long, busy weekend for the firefighters responding to fireworks calls for the Fourth of July, Nohr said.
The water tenders had to shuttle water to the fire from the nearest fire hydrant over a mile away, the agency said.
The Department of Natural Resources also responded to protect the surrounding wooded area. Nohr said they called the state agency when they saw embers blowing into the forest.
Nohr noted that the surrounding fir trees were particularly vulnerable after last weekend’s heat wave, that included three days of triple-digit temperatures. He said the west side of many of the towering trees are visibly scorched and have dropped their needles. That made him particularly concerned to see this morning’s fire blowing embers into the trees.
As of around 10 a.m., crews were continuing to mop up spot fires in the piles of belongings in the yard, according to the chief.