By Monique Harrison

Daily Journal

BALDWYN -Sixty-eight-year-old Jewel Rowe’s lower lip quivered Thursday morning as she watched firefighters work to control a blaze at First United Pentecostal Church.

“There are a lot of memories,” Rowe said of the Ripley Road church, which members say has an average Sunday morning attendance of about 35. “My husband and I, we got married in this church. And there have been all kinds of good services and singings. It’s hard to explain … how this feels. You can’t understand, unless you’ve been here.”

The fire that destroyed the sanctuary, classrooms and storage area of the small brown-brick church located off of U.S. Highway 45 in northwest Baldwyn started shortly before 10 a.m., with firefighters working for about an hour to squelch the blaze that is believed to have started in a storage room at the back of the building.

The newest wing of the church – a fellowship hall built about three years ago – received only moderate smoke damage.

No one was at the 10-year-old church when the fire started. The church’s pastor, who lives with his wife in a doublewide mobile home located directly behind the church, was in Tupelo when the blaze occurred.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation, Baldwyn Police Chief Paul Vick said Thursday.

“It’s hard to determine exactly what happened,” Vick said.

Pastor Braxton Rutland, who has been at the church about six years, said it was his understanding something in the storage building sparked the blaze.

Rutland said he wasn’t sure where the church’s small congregation would meet until a new building is constructed.

“I’m at a real loss right now,” he said. “I don’t know what we’ll be doing, but we’ll figure something out. It’s just hard.”

Baldwyn’s fire chief said there were few problems putting out the blaze.

“There were no real complications,” he said. “It was just a matter of getting enough manpower in to take care of it.”

To get that manpower, five additional volunteer fire departments from Prentiss and Lee Counties were called to assist.

“This was a team effort,” Vick said.

Click video to hear audio