Fire Inflicts Extensive Damage Near Church

By Pamela Bond

Waco Tribune-Herald

Aug. 14, 2007

Waco firefighters put out a fire that damaged a building belonging to a local church Monday afternoon.

No one was injured in the blaze, reported about 4 p.m. in a two-story white building at 1415 Washington Ave. The building, owned by St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church, included an upstairs apartment previously used for the church’s youth group.

Damage to the building appeared to be extensive. Church custodian Jerry Hassel said he heard an explosive popping sound shortly after 4 p.m. while he was in a nearby building and saw flames in the first story of the white building. Cathy Smith said she was working in another church building when she also heard the sound but thought it was a door closing.

After the popping sound, electricity went off in the buildings where Smith and Hassel were working. Hassel ran to Smith and pointed out the fire, and Smith called 9-1-1.

“The second floor used to be used for the youth,” Smith said. “It’s got some old furniture that had been donated, but it hasn’t been used for a while. But we’ve had trouble with vagrants living in the first floor because we’ve seen evidence such as food and even pets. That’s what concerned me when I called, was that someone might be in there.”

As the temperature rose above 100 degrees, the Waco firefighters worked to get the fire down. They searched the building but found no one.

“The boys did a good job,” said Waco fire Capt. Chris Pechacek. “If there’s ever a possibility that someone may be in the building, we’ll be sure to go in and check.”

Firefighters were concerned about the fire moving to the building next door, also owned by St. Mary’s. While the fire melted the siding of that building, Pechacek said Smith’s quick call probably saved it from the flames.

Waco Fire Marshal Jerry Hawk did not know the fire’s cause Monday afternoon, though he said the fire obviously started from a small flame. Pechacek said it began on the first floor.

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