The Rev. Pavel Sandu stood in a rain-washed street Monday, watching his congregation’s Midland-area church be consumed by flames for the second time in five months.
The pastor of Golgotha Baptist Church thought it was a bad joke when somebody called to tell him the building was ablaze. But when he arrived at 1611 85th St. E., he saw pillars of smoke rising into the cold air and 40 or so firefighters swarming the church with hoses and ladders.
No one was hurt in the blaze.
Investigators hadn’t yet determined what caused the fire, and didn’t expect to be able to get into the building until Tuesday because it wasn’t stable. “It’s not even safe to go into it right now,” Central Pierce Fire & Rescue spokesman Ed Hrivak said Monday. He said there were reports that someone was seen leaving the building when the fire started, but that officials hadn't been able to confirm that Monday.
The building wasn’t occupied when the fire broke out.
Hard times have not yet loosened the grip on the congregation, which on a typical Sunday boasts 300 members, most of whom speak Romanian and emigrated from the Eastern European country of Moldova.
An arsonist damaged the church in September after gathering paper, plastic and a picture frame and lighting them on fire. The blaze caused $1 million in damages. The man charged in the arson remains in the Pierce County Jail, awaiting a competency hearing to stand trial in the case.
The earlier blaze forced the congregation to worship at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Tacoma while insurance processed its claim.
They hoped to rebuild, one day. They still hold the same hope.
“For us, for me, for everybody from the congregation, it opens old wounds,” Sandu said less than an hour after the blaze was extinguished Monday. “This fire (will) make us stronger, like before.”
Central Pierce firefighters were called to the church about 9:45 a.m. by a passerby who reported seeing smoke. By the time they arrived, Hrivnak said, there already was “significant damage.”
Crews struggled to gain control of the fire because flames raced up the south side of the attic space, which could not be reached because of damage from the previous blaze. Firefighters had to wait until the roof collapsed before they could move in.
The fire was doused by 12:12 p.m. after firefighters used more than 75,000 gallons of water streamed from the tops of ladders and from hoses on the ground.
Members of the congregation huddled together on the corner, offering consolation and staring in disbelief. One stranger approached Sandu and handed him a $5 bill, saying he wanted his lunch money to go toward rebuilding the church.
It is kindness like that, people like that, that inspire Sandu to focus on the positive.
He declined to talk in detail about Monday’s fire because he doesn’t know yet what happened. He hadn’t formulated a message for his congregation. But he knows their faith will guide them through yet another rough patch.
“We forgive once, we can forgive second time, third time,” he said. “That’s our faith.”
The congregation, which formed in 2000, saved for nearly a dozen years to raise $750,000 to buy the hall in April 2012. They had just finished remodeling the inside of the building and were preparing to redo the parking lot when September’s fire put their plan on hold.
In December, they estimated their church would be rebuilt by September 2015. Now, they don’t know.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653