Church Steeple Hit By Lightning

Pieces of charred wood from the First Assembly of God’s steeple remained scattered on the church’s grounds Wednesday, lingering evidence of a lightning strike on the building during the overnight hours.

While the steeple was destroyed by the fire sparked by the lightning strike, officials from the church on Georgetown Road say it was a miracle the damage wasn’t worse.

The Carneys Point Fire Department received a call at 2:18 a.m. for a fire at the church. Local firefighters had already been busy during the early-morning hours of Wednesday dealing with downed power lines and alarm system calls sparked by the severe storm that rolled through the county shortly after midnight.

Fire Chief Michael Hanna said the department arrived on scene at 2:20 a.m. following Carneys Point Police and Ambulance Squad to notice flames had engulfed the steeple and appeared to be quickly crawling toward the building’s main structure.

“Because it’s the highest point of the building it got struck and in possibly another five minutes the rest of the building would have been in flames, too,” said Hanna. “I can’t say for sure what would have happened, but the guys on the ground did an absolutely wonderful job acting on the situation immediately.”

Rev. Keith Holt, pastor of the near 60 year-old church since 1999, said intuition told him there was a crisis when the phone rang at 2:19 a.m.

“When I got the call a police officer said the church was hit by lightning,” said Holt. “My wife Linda and I got here at 2:30 a.m. and saw tons of people running around working to help put the fire out and keep it from doing further damage.

I think this is a miracle for a couple of reasons … the fire department was already at their house, which cut their reaction time in half or more and someone was awake to see this and call 9-1-1.”

Joshua LiGatti, 20, of Taft Avenue was driving home approximately 2:15 a.m. after picking up his brother from work stepped into his front door only to turn around and notice black clouds of smoke and then shooting flames. LiGatti informed his grandmother, Diane Miller, who called the 9-1-1 center.

“When I was driving I didn’t notice anything, but I live right around the corner,” said LiGatti. “I saw smoke a couple of minutes and then it went up in flames. Not even a minute and the cops were right over there. I think it was God’s will to let me see that. I’m just thankful that when I did, it let me save the church.”

Kevin Holt, assistant pastor and son of Rev. Keith Holt, declared after seeing the street flooded with flashing lights, and barrels of gushing water pouring over the burning steeple, concern crept into his heart, but thoughts stayed with God.

“The whole street was covered with fire trucks; lights and chaos everywhere. I thought it had spread from the steeple into the building,” said Kevin Holt. “I know this is a miracle because people were praying for us before this happened; people we didn’t know personally. There’s too many coincidences. God has his hand in the whole thing.”

Sending out what he considers a “Burden of Prayer,” Rev. Michael Lewis Fabi, pastor of Bethesda Fellowship A/G, in Mount Laurel corresponded with the pastors at First Assembly of God just hours before flames ignited the steeple.

“I just wanted to drop you a note of encouragement,” Fabi said in an e-mail. Yesterday as I was in prayer I felt a burden to pray specifically for Carneys Point. I am familiar with the area, but not the church. I am sure that this could have been much worse, but in God’s divine providence it was not.”

Senior Pastor Holt, said because of God’s divine intervention water damage to the chapel is not visible and services for the 200 member congregation will not be interrupted.

George Ruhl, a member of the church, discussed lending his services as a roofer to aid in repairing the steeple such as he had done in the past when the cross split, according to Holt.

After the fire was extinguished, a large blue tarp was wrapped around the damaged area to prevent rain from entering the building.

There were no injuries in the incident.

Carneys Point Fire Department responded to the call and remained in service for 1 hour and 40 minutes with assistance from Carneys Point EMS, Pennsville Fire Department, Reliance Fire Company, Penns Grove Liberty Fire Company, Penns Grove EMS, and Pedricktown EMS all of whom also remained in service for 1 hour and 40 minutes.