“It’s total devastation for this community,” Mack Hayes, an elder at Oakland Cumberland Presbyterian Church, said Thursday as he sat at a table outside the church’s fellowship hall. The fellowship hall is a separate structure from the main church and did not suffer any damage. Hayes said he was thankful no one was injured.
“That’s a building, this is a church,” he said as he patted his hand over his heart.
Hayes said a fire marshal told him there was a problem with the breaker box which could have been going on two or three weeks before it finally became hot enough to create a spark, which created a flame and spread quickly.
He said that during last Sunday’s service, the sound system power tripped a breaker. They flipped it back on and it worked for a while before tripping the breaker again.
He had contacted an electrician, but hadn’t been able to get anyone to the church to look for the problem.
Hayes said the church met for Wednesday night service around 5 p.m. and let out about 5:45 p.m. He and his wife, who live just down the hill from the church, were getting ready to sit down for supper when someone drove up their house and began blowing the horn.
“A neighbor lady came by blowing the horn. She said the church was on fire,” Hayes recalled. “I grabbed a fire extinguisher and by the time I got here ... I knew it wouldn’t do any good.”
Firefighters were already on their way, he said, and they worked quickly to douse the fire. Three volunteer fire departments — Limestone VFD, Sulphur Springs VFD and Nolichucky VFD — responded along with Jonesborough Fire Department. Hayes said the Greeneville Fire Department also responded with a ladder truck to help fight the fire.
Hayes said the outpouring of concern and offer of assistance from the community has been amazing. One woman offered a piano while others offered places for worship services, he said. Several area businesses have also offered to help the church.
“A former pastor, he came by and we’ve had all kinds of church people” stopping to offer condolences and offer help.
“We’ve always strived to be the light on the hill for this community. We’re a small congregation, 27 to 47 attend,” Hayes said. “Everything happens for a reason. It’s part of God’s plan. We’ll come together and we’ll return.”
He said the building may have to be torn down and completely rebuilt if an engineer determines the structure isn’t sound.
The church first organized in 1850, but as the congregation grew, a new building was constructed in 1876. That’s the structure that stands there today, although there have been renovations and updates over the years, Hayes said.
He said there were photographs hanging in the foyer of the church as it changed throughout the years as well as photographs of members who were deceased. Those were all destroyed in the fire, Hayes said.