ALBANY, Ore. — From the outside, the 104-year-old church looks like it did last week: intricate brick designs and lavish greenery, but after an electrical fire early Monday morning, the interior of the Willamette Community Church begs to differ.
Albany Fire Marshal and Division Chief Mike Trabue says the fire started in the basement from an electrical fan in the men’s bathroom. He says though the fire only spread to two to three rooms, the smoke escaped to the rest of the 75,000 square-foot structure.
“One sprinkler had activated and was holding the fire in check,” Trabue said. “But the fire had gotten into the void spaces in the wall and the ceiling area.”
Fire officials say two alarms alerted the security system that protects the church on SE 3rd Street in Albany Monday morning, which notified one of the pastors. Associate Pastor Mike Mellison then went to the church, where he smelled smoke and heard the sprinkler system alarm. Mellison called 911, and 35 fire fighters from Albany, Corvallis, Lebanon, and Tangent crews arrived on scene just after 2:00 a.m.
Trabue says crews were on scene fighting the blazes for about an hour and a half. The former Albany High School building, which was built in 1909, has many open spaces for fire and smoke to spread, Trabue says.
The building, which has been a church since the 1960s, is also home to a Christian daycare facility and primary school. However, because of the fire, church officials say the summer day care services will likely be cancelled for the rest of the week.
“It’s upsetting,” said Albany Christian School Principal Katie Miller. “This is my church home as well as my place of employment. So it’s hard to see your hundred-year-old doors with an ax marked through them, and to see debris and windows that are a hundred years old smashed.”
The Fire Marshal is estimating repairs to cost around $100,000 because of the smoke damage.
“That stuff is very pungent and just seeps into everything,” said Trabue.
Despite the water and smoke damage, the church says it is grateful that nobody was inside the building at the time.
“We’re thankful it was in the middle of the night and that our alarm system let us know something was going on so that it wasn’t much worse,” Miller said.
The church says it will hire a contractor to fix the damages, and it hopes members will still be able to congregate this upcoming Sunday like usual.