WALTERBORO, SC (WCSC) - A landmark in Colleton County went up in flames after a severe thunderstorm Friday night. Thirty-two fire stations responded to the call just outside of Walterboro at the Great Swamp Baptist Church.
The fire took less time than a morning service to destroy 130 years of Walterboro history.
"I was expecting a minor fire," said Great Swamp Baptist Church Pastor Jack Padgett. "I had no idea it was going to be so severe."
Padgett says the call he got late Friday night made him heartsick.
"It was like losing a member of our family. It was really difficult," he said.
Padgett showed up to find the church he's been leading for 12 years engulfed in flames.
"Somebody that lives across the street said they heard a loud boom," Padgett said. "And they said they thought lightning hit a tree and they came out of their house a few minutes later and there was just smoke everywhere."
Colleton County Fire Chief Barry Mcroy thinks lightning hit a power line attached to the church and started the fire. By the time he arrived he says the flames were too big for the crews on hand and they had to call for help, twice.
"We went to a third alarm for more manpower and they eventually went to a fourth alarm and they alerted every station in the county which is 32 fire stations," Mcroy said.
He said it has been six years since he has seen a fire this size, which was the only other four-alarm fire in Colleton County he could recall.
Firefighters left the church around 6 a.m., which was about the time members of the congregation started arriving, trying to salvage anything they could, heart broken, but positive.
"The thing about it is we lost a church building last night," one member of the church said. "We did not lose the church. The church consists of the members and we lost the building true enough but the building can be replaced."
The congregation is planning to meet behind the church for worship Sunday morning. The pastor says it may take awhile, but they plan to rebuild the church on the same site.