A fire early Sunday morning destroyed much of the Hermiston Adventist Church, as flames and extensive smoke damaged the decades-old house of worship.

Umatilla County Fire District Marshal Scott Goff said investigators think the fire was caused by a lamp that was too close to a wooden table. Foul play is not suspected.

“It was a long, slow, smoldering fire that kind of cooked the whole building,” Goff said.

As flames engulfed the west side of the building before dawn on Sunday, some church members were quick to jump to action.

Larry Hanson, a former head elder in the church, helped fight the fire as a volunteer for the Echo Fire Department.

“It’s kind of hard to say how long it had been burning,” Hanson said.

He arrived around 5:15 a.m., close to an hour after UCFD reached the church, and remained on site until about 9 a.m.

Hanson, a longtime member of the church, said the building was constructed in the mid-1960s. Hanson said on Monday that they wouldn’t know the extent of the damage until an insurance adjuster arrived Tuesday.

Goff said he estimated the damage at $3 million. Hanson said the church’s insurance would cover those costs.

While the building is under repair, he said the congregation will hold church services at the Hermiston Junior Academy, the school run by the Seventh-day Adventist church, on Northwest 11th Street.

Carl Robins, a member of the Hermiston Seventh-day Adventist church for the past seven years, was standing in the parking lot and surveying the damage Monday morning.

“I’m sad,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t.”

Robins said he had looked at the damage inside the building on Sunday, and said it appeared that much of the building’s interior had been burned.

“The guy who does the sound equipment went into the sanctuary, and he said pretty much everything in there is toast,” he said.

Robins said he was relieved no one was injured, which was the most important thing. As he was standing there, a man drove up and handed him a bag.

“I brought cookies for your congregation,” he said. “I know that’s not much.”

Hanson said the church currently has about 175 active members, and they had varying responses to the fire.

“It’s interesting,” he said. “People react in different ways. There certainly were a few people crying — I think especially those who grew up with this being the only church they’ve ever known.”

He said for others, the fire was disappointing, but they were comforted by the knowledge that their church family still exists, just in a different location.

The church, at 855 W. Highland Ave., is best known in the community for its annual Journey to Bethlehem living nativity. Robins said most of the scenery is stored in a separate storage shed.

UCFD was assisted by Boardman, Echo and Umatilla rural fire departments in fighting the fire.


Contact Jayati Ramakrishnan at 541-564-4534 or jramakrishnan@eastoregonian.com

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