Clearfield congregation unites as fire destroys church

Published: Tuesday, March 19 2013 7:25 p.m. MDT

Firefighters work to control a blaze at the Clearfield Community Church in Clearfield on Tuesday, March 19, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

CLEARFIELD — As parishioners at Clearfield Community Church watched a three-alarm fire consume the place they have worshiped for decades Tuesday, all they could do was pray.

"At the moment, I'm just numb," said Donna Axmann, who watched the building where two of her sons were married burn and collapse. "The sanctuary is completely destroyed. … Many of the stained-glass windows in the church were made by members of the congregation, and we've lost all those. That hurts."

But Axmann said the group that has sustained her since she joined the nondenominational Christian congregation in 1982 has not lost faith.

"The church council is meeting tonight, and there's a lot ahead of us, but I think we're going to be fine," she said. "We'll stay together as a congregation and see what comes next. And I'm sure of that."

More than three hours after fire crews from multiple agencies began battling the blaze, reported about 3 p.m., flames reignited in the west side of the building. Crews on scene said the west wing of the church would likely be a total loss.

The quick-moving fire at 200 S. 500 East is suspected to have begun in the basement. It spread rapidly to the attic, and firefighters were left to douse the flames from above and defend nearby structures until the roof collapsed.

Pastor John Parsley, who escaped the building along with staff members and 13 children attending a class, said the 150-person congregation will carry on in the wake of the tragedy.

"God built that building, and he'll build us another one, and we'll be fine in the interim," he declared, even as the fire raged nearby. "Palm Sunday is coming, and we'll be having services somewhere in the community. Leaders in our community say we can use their facilities as needed."

Parsley expressed gratitude for other faiths in the community and promised to determine his flock's "next step" before the sun set Tuesday.

Axmann agreed, grateful but not surprised at the outpouring of help. And as the now homeless congregation advances, members will find strength in each other.

"It isn't the building I loved; it's the people," she said, calling the congregation a close family that shares many memories. "God can be worshiped anywhere, and we'll do that."

The building has been a Clearfield landmark for decades, constructed shortly after the Christian congregation was organized in 1945.

North Davis Fire Capt. Chris Tremea said there was no safe way to approach the fire from the moment crews arrived on scene. At times, firefighters were pouring up to 10,000 gallons of water per minute onto the fire, he reported. The cause of the fire will be carefully investigated.

Meanwhile, the emotional toll of the fire may exceed the financial loss, Tremea said. 

"As far as the financial aspect of it, I'm unsure (of the damage), but I know this is a great landmark for the city of Clearfield," he said.

Contributing: Peter Samore 

E-mail: mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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