ST. GEORGE — The historic St. George Tabernacle caught fire Thursday morning after being struck by lightning, but firefighters were able to bring the blaze under control before it did much damage.
St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker said the fire was reported at 9:15 a.m. and firefighting crews arrived on scene within a few minutes. Smoke was emanating from the roof on the south side of the building’s steeple.
“We did have fire showing in the roof structure,” Stoker said, adding that the blaze had spread into parts of the attic of the 141-year-old building, located at 18 South Main Street.
Crews first battled the blaze from inside the building using portable extinguishers, followed by pressurized fire hoses, Stoker said. Later, firefighters climbed up the exterior scaffolding and removed tarps and roofing materials to access the attic and make sure hot spots were not still smoldering within the rafters.
“There were construction workers inside that witnessed the strike,” Stoker said, adding that all of them were able to safely evacuate the building. No injuries were reported.
Multiple witnesses reported seeing lightning strikes in the immediate area as a morning thunderstorm passed through town.
Witness David Maggard said he was out for his morning walk when he saw a bright flash and heard a loud sound, after which he could see white smoke coming from the tabernacle’s roof.
“Within a couple minutes, heard sirens,” Maggard said. “The fire engines got here fast.”
Chief Stoker said although there is some damage to the roof and attic timbers, “structurally, the building is still sound.”
Fire officials said eight fire engine units responded to the incident, including two ladder trucks and five other engines from St. George Fire Department, plus one engine from Washington City Fire Department. Two Gold Cross Ambulances were also on scene.
The tabernacle, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, dates back to the 1870s. Long used for church gatherings, worship services,concerts and community events, the building has been closed for renovation since June 2016.
In addition to fire department investigators, LDS Church officials and representatives from the construction company contracted for the renovation were also on scene assessing the damage.
Officials from the church’s public affairs department said the fire is unlikely to delay the timetable for the tabernacle’s renovation project, which is scheduled to be finished by January 2018.
This report is based on preliminary information provided by law enforcement or other emergency responders and may not contain the full scope of findings.
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