The State Fire Marshal has been called to investigate the cause of a fire that gutted a rural Shelby County church this morning. According to Harlan Fire Chief Roger Bissen, the call to assist the Kimballton Fire Department with a fire at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church one-mile west of Jacksonville, came in at around 10:15 a.m.
Bissen says the Harlan and Kimballton Departments arrived at the church at about the same time. He says they saw smoke coming from the eaves of the church and the glass was discolored. Bissen says they started to ventilate the building, but then had to get out as the heat was too intense. After they fought the flames, Bissen says it took a couple of hours for salvage and overhaul, which was still underway early this afternoon.
Bissen says they don’t know for sure what caused the fire. Bissen says the church was locked up when they got there, and says someone had come to get the mail and she called 9-1-1. He says some a couple of firefighters became overheated while battling the smoke, flames, heat and humidity, but they were cooled-off and did not require hospitalization.
Firefighters from Elk Horn, Kirkman and Irwin brought extra water to the scene to fight the flames. Bissen says they didn’t have to use it, but the extra help was appreciated. Bissen says they had to use a lot of men rotated in and out because the heat exhausted the firefighters very quickly.
Keith Campbell, from Harlan, has been a member of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church for over 60-years, and a trustee for a number of those years as well. He learned of the fire at around 11:30 A.M. and was seemed to accept the loss with resignation. "It’s just one of those things that happen in life," Campbell says.
Pastor Ron Rasmussen, who heads-up the church, is on vacation, but he has been notified about the fire. He suggested they bring folding chairs and hold services out on the lawn this Sunday. Despite a dwindling congregation, a new roof on the 100-plus year old brick building a little over a year ago, and Campbell says they were in the process of getting new front doors and making minor repairs to keep it going. He says he doubts they’ll rebuild.