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ATF investigating 'unusual' fire at Macon church

Firefighters douse water on God's Power Church of Church in Macon's Unionville after an early Tuesday fire.
Firefighters douse water on God's Power Church of Church in Macon's Unionville after an early Tuesday fire. lfabian@macon.com

As flames ripped through the roof of God’s Power Church of Christ early Tuesday, firefighters leaving the Pio Nono Avenue station could see the blaze from a mile and a half away.

A half-dozen Macon-Bibb County fire units were called to the 4:30 a.m. fire with its flames shooting into the sky as crews arrived at 1985 Cedar Ave.Assistant Pastor Jeanette Dudley’s phone rang at about 5 a.m.

“We’re a peaceful church. We don’t bother anyone. We receive everyone into our sanctuary and this is just a sad occasion for us,” Dudley said as firefighters knocked down the flames.

Macon-Bibb Fire Chief Marvin Riggins called the fire “unusual,” since the congregation has not been meeting there in recent weeks and no services or meetings were held in the last 48 hours.

“We’re certainly investigating this,” Riggins said. “The structure itself has sustained heavy fire damage, at this point.”

The Federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives was called, which is standard procedure because the building is a church, he said.

Investigators were at the church Monday afternoon trying to pinpoint the cause of the blaze. No determination has been issued.

In recent weeks, burglars first stole the sound system and then later disabled the air conditioning system, said Ronnie Walker, a relative of Church of Christ’s pastor, Lillie Mae Powell, who is in her early 90s.

Church members have another church they can use in Danville, Walker said.

The cinder block building at the corner of Moseley Avenue was built in 1992 and completed in 1993, Dudley said.

A sign reading “Jesus Loves You!” still hangs over the door to the burned out sanctuary.

“We’ve had plenty of good churching,” Dudley said.

With the break-ins they have had, Dudley can’t help but think someone deliberately set the church on fire, but hopes authorities will be able to catch the culprit, if it was arson.

“I just don’t know at this point,” she said. “It’s just been one thing after another.”

Fire crews knocked down the flames and had the fire under control within an hour.

The whole roof collapsed while crews were on the scene.

No one was hurt, Riggins said.

“I’m not sure if it started in the roof structure, itself, or if it penetrated from down low and went up the walls,” he said.

Macon-Bibb’s lead arson investigator, Sgt. Ben Gleaton, was on the scene shortly after the fire was reported.

Once the building cooled enough, Gleaton and his ATF colleagues planned to search the rubble and take samples to determine if accelerants were used.

Anyone who noticed any suspicious activity around the church is urged to call the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office at 751-7500, or Macon Regional Crimestoppers at 877-68-CRIME.

Come back to macon.com for updates and read Wednesday's Telegraph.

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