Fireworks blamed for church fire

Burned fireworks found on nearby streets, parking lots

Altoona firefighters work at the scene of an Independence Day fire that scorched the side of the Bread of Life Baptist Church on Tuesday. Mirror photo by Sean Sauro

Fireworks are blamed for starting an Independence Day blaze at an Altoona church along South Hagerty Street on Tuesday.

City firefighters were called about noon to the Bread of Life Baptist Church, 311 S. Hagerty St., where flames engulfed the side of the building, Altoona Fire Department Chief Tim Hileman said.

Across the street from the burned building, a group of teenagers watched as firefighters worked. Alyssa Wray said the fire spread quickly up the building.

“It was lit up pretty good,” she said.

Her brother, Christopher Wray, said there was a group of children playing with fireworks near the church.

“They were hitting them with tennis rackets,” he said, explaining one of the fireworks landed beneath the church’s deck, igniting the building.

Hileman said he could not immediately confirm the teenagers’ stories, but he was confident about the fire’s cause.

“There is no question that fireworks started this,” he said, adding burned fireworks were found on nearby streets and parking lots. “You can see fireworks laying all over.”

“Luckily, we had enough people here to see what was happening,” Hileman said of the fire, noting firefighters were able to respond within “a minute and a half” of the ignition.

Within five minutes, the fire was extinguished, he said.

Before 12:30 p.m., the church’s side and two ornamental crosses were charred from top to bottom. Hileman said firefighters also had to pull down interior ceilings and walls to check for flames. However, no water was sprayed inside of the building.

“That building is saved,” Hileman said. “There is no structural damage to it.”

No one was inside of the church at the time of the fire, and no one was injured as a result of the blaze.

Hileman encouraged those using fireworks to do so safely and said parents should watch over children who may be using fireworks.

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.