Wesley United fire origin determined, cause unknown
By Hub City Times staff
MARSHFIELD – Marshfield fire officials know where the Wesley United Church blaze began, but they don’t know how. Fire Chief Scott Owen said the Sept. 2 blaze broke out in the kitchen on the lower level of the building, and had been burning for some time before fire crews were notified just after 2 p.m.
“Without doing deep digging, a lot of rubble removal, it is very difficult to ascertain exactly what happened,” Owen said. “The building was turned back over to the pastor and the insurance company and now the insurance company is deciding if they are going to perform the dig out and look for a cause, or if they are going to go with what the state fire marshal came up with as undetermined.”
Owen said the official investigation wrapped up Sept. 3, after the state Fire Marshall’s Office spent the day on scene. Owen says investigators know where the fire broke out based on burn patterns and where firefighters and witnesses first noticed flames, which were spotted coming from the kitchen window along East Third Street.
“The investigators kind of start in that area, see where the fire spread – based on burn patterns, based on heat, different markings throughout the building, and then they start pinpointing it down to different areas,” he said. “They check appliances, they check everything; everything is done in a very systematic fashion. Not only with our department, but we also did have investigators from the police department in, because we have to have them in play until it’s ruled that it is not criminal.”
Owen says the fire is not criminal in nature, and there was no foul play. He does not have a dollar estimate of the damage. A total of 32 firefighters from Marshfield, Hewitt, and Richfield were used to battle the blaze.
“We maintained a fire watch all night – two firefighters rotated every few hours – to make sure there were no smoldering fires, to keep control of the building until the state fire marshal could get in,” Owen stated. “The call came in about 2 p.m. and everybody was back (to the fire department) by 11 p.m.-ish, with the exception of the night watch people.
“The other fact of it is – we did have an ambulance out of the station. We had eight people on duty, and we had two on an ambulance call, so we started fighting this fire with six people. Six in a house fire is difficult. Six in a church is nearly impossible.”
Owen estimates that more than 700,000 gallons of water were used to fight the fire. The nearly 100-year-old church is considered a total loss. The structure that burned was built in 1921.