MILTON-FREEWATER — Pastor Tim Sanchez had expected to fly out Wednesday, Aug. 19, to spend his birthday with his children and grandchildren.
Instead, he will be dealing with a lot of water damage from an early morning fire, Sanchez said Aug. 18.
It was at about 3:30 a.m. that a police officer was driving by First Baptist Church at 102 S. Main St., two doors down from McLoughlin High School, when he spotted flames and called for help.
City Fire Chief Shane Garner said from the initial report the fire started in a shrub at the front of the church building and spread to the eaves.
“That shrub is still smoldering,” Sanchez noted around 8 a.m.
About 20 city and Milton-Freewater Rural Fire District firefighters responded to the blaze that, while contained to office and foyer areas, still ruined about 35% of the building with water and smoke, Garner said.
Sanchez said he awoke Aug. 18 at about the same time the officer spotted the fire and was getting ready to have his first cup of coffee when he saw a social media post about the fire.
The flames reached into the attic area before the fire was put out, he said.
Fire and police officials are viewing video from nearby security cameras and an arson investigation team was en route to the scene, Sanchez said.
The pastor said the church roof had been replaced in October, and at least part of it will have to be rebuilt.
“It’s a good thing it wasn’t the old roof with shingles and exposed plywood,” Sanchez said.
Until Aug. 13, the church had hosted the YMCA’s summer day camp program for area children for seven weeks, he added.