Heartbreaking church fire

December 08, 2017

Wakool Anglican Church parishioner John Rogers was forced to look on helplessly as his beloved church was destroyed by fire on Wednesday morning.

Mr Rogers, who was doing some volunteer gardening in the church’s Tasman St grounds, reported to Mid-Murray Zone Rural Fire Service volunteers that he heard electrical arcing before he saw smoke and flames coming from the front of the church.

The blaze is believed to have started in the electrical box, which connects the church to the powerlines.

‘‘By the time the brigade arrived, the church was fully engulfed,’’ Mr Rogers said.

‘‘It’s a weatherboard building and it took less than 20 minutes to go up and be totally destroyed. The flames were very intense.

‘‘Fortunately no one was inside — the building was all locked up and the power turned off.

‘‘It was absolutely devastating (to watch) and I couldn’t do a thing because the fire was in the roof.

‘‘There were no hoses in the church grounds, but even if there were it would not have done any good.’’

Mr Rogers — who with his wife Lin has been a member of the church for more than six years — raised the fire alarm at the Wakool Rural Fire Service brigade station.

He said despite the firefighters ‘‘being scattered to the wind’’ they all made their way into the town to help fight the blaze.

RFS Mid-Murray Zone district assistant Terry Campbell, who grew up in the Wakool area, said the alarm was raised about 10.30am, with Wakool and Tullakool brigades responding.

He said about 15 volunteer firefighters worked diligently with two tankers, and reported to have fully contained the fire shortly after noon.

‘‘The church was 100 per cent involved by the time the brigades arrived — the timber was very old and dry so didn’t take long to burn, with the wooden pews adding extra fuel to the flames,’’ Mr Campbell said.

‘‘Our former superintendent Lindsay Lashbrook lives across the road from the blaze and was able to provide some advice to those on scene, which was very handy.’’

Mr Campbell said given the church is located on a large block, homes surrounding the property were not affected.

The church was home to the Anglican and Uniting Church congregations in the Wakool and Moulamein communities.

Father Neale Sommersby said an alternative worship location would be found in Wakool until the church can be rebuilt.

‘‘We are obviously looking at trying to find another space in Wakool, perhaps the Wakool Hall,’’ Fr Sommersby said.

‘‘The other alternative is to perhaps use the Catholic Church, which is still standing. We are looking to host our carols service in the hall on December 22.

‘‘It is important to have a church presence in Wakool, which we share with the Uniting Church.

‘‘After Christmas, and after we have dealt with the insurance, the parish council will meet to discuss building a new church, and we will also look at the fundraising that will be needed.

‘‘It will be a bit of a process.’’

A member of the local parish since 2010, Fr Sommersby was only recently ordained and has been priest in charge for only a few weeks.

‘‘I’m very heartbroken,’’ he said.

‘‘I give thanks that we were able to have Holy Communion at the church for the first time in many years on Sunday — it was my first with that community.

‘‘Very little has been salvaged from the church ... the altar cross was among the items saved.

‘‘The altar which we’d only just received from the decommissioned Koondrook church (along with other items) was destroyed.

‘‘The nativity scene was also saved; it was a miracle. I found it in the corner of the building but the baby Jesus from the scene was found in tact where the altar was. For me that was a great sense that God is still present.

‘‘We also found a page from a hymn book floating in the ashes — from the song ‘Because He Lives’ which has the lyrics ‘‘Because He lives, I can face tomorrow; Because He lives, all fear is gone; Because I know He holds the future’’.

The Wakool Anglican Church is believed to have been built in 1951.

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