WINFALL — A fire that damaged the interior of a church in Winfall Tuesday night was set deliberately, the Perquimans County fire marshal said.
Fire Marshal Barry Overman said Wednesday the fire at Spirit and Truth United Methodist Church was the result of arson.
Overman made the determination based on the origin of the fire and “other evidence” at the scene, a press release from Perquimans Emergency Management states. The release didn’t identify the evidence Overman found at the scene.
Both Overman and the Perquimans County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the blaze.
According to the press release, the Perquimans 911 Center was notified of the fire at the church at 206 Main St., Winfall at 9:31 p.m.
The first firefighters with the Winfall Fire Department who arrived saw flames at the rear of the church, the press release states. Fire crews who entered the building faced intense heat and smoke but were quickly able to extinguish the flames and get the fire under control.
Overman said later Wednesday that the bulk of the fire damage was limited to the rear portion of the church, which sustained heavy smoke damage as well. Fire crews knocked down the flames and began ventilating the smoke with fans, Overman said.
Overman cited two factors for why the church sanctuary was mostly spared from the brunt of the fire. First, the doors leading from the rear of the church into the sanctuary were closed. Also, the sheet rock walls dividing the rear of the church and the sanctuary also helped, he said.
“The makeup of the building is really what saved it,” he said.
Overman said he notified the State Bureau of Investigation but said the agency will not assist in the investigation. SBI doesn’t get involved in arson cases if local authorities are certain the incident was not related to a hate crime or to a series of suspicious fires, he explained.
Perquimans Sheriff Shelby White said his agency doesn’t believe the fire was set as a hate crime. Like Overman, he declined to say what evidence was found at the church and why it led investigators to determine the fire was set.
The Rev. Arthur Manigault, pastor of Spirit and Truth UMC, said Wednesday there was minor smoke damage in the sanctuary but extensive damage from the fire in the kitchen, fellowship hall and “the entire back of the church.”
A 72-inch monitor used in the church’s worship was taken from the sanctuary and the fire was started inside the wall behind where the monitor had been, he said.
Shelby declined to comment when asked if investigators believe the fire at the church involved a robbery.
Spirit and Truth United Methodist Church is owned by the trustees of North Carolina Annual Conference of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church, Inc. Manigault believes the church at some point will be able to reopen.
“We want to try to rebuild it back up and make it usable again and get back to worshiping the Lord,” he said.
About 30 firefighters from the Winfall Fire Department, the Hertford Fire Department and the Belvidere Fire Department responded to the fire.
“Our volunteer firefighters did a great job working together to contain the fire quickly,” Winfall Fire Chief Corey Stallings said in the press release.
Fire personnel remained at the fire scene into the early Wednesday morning, and deputies were on scene until investigators could return to complete their investigation. Assisting firefighters were the Perquimans County Sheriff’s Office, Perquimans County EMS, Perquimans County Emergency Management and Albemarle Electric Membership Corp.
The Sheriff’s Office asked anyone with information about the fire to call 426-5615.