City of Lincoln
Fire & Rescue Department
Zion Church Fire
Zion Church fire started in basement kitchen
BY LORI PILGER / Lincoln Journal Star
Monday, Jun 11, 2007 - 06:07:19 pm CDT
Fire officials now say the fire that gutted Zion Church on Saturday started in a basement kitchen. But the cause remains under investigation, Chief Fire Inspector Bill Moody said Monday.
With fire under foot and breaking through the first floor, firefighters fought dangerous conditions to make sure no one was in the building, said Deputy Fire Chief Pat Borer.
He said firefighters went in with a handheld thermal imaging camera, which shows heat signatures in varying degrees of white, to help them search quickly for anyone who may be trapped inside. No one was.
Where they used to find dangerous spots by touch or by step, Saturday the camera helped them spot a hole in the floor that a firefighter might otherwise have fallen into, Borer said.
Firefighters couldn’t see six inches in front of their faces in places inside because of the smoke, he said.
“It was a very hazardous fire for us to work in,” Borer said. “And one that concerned me.”
As it was, two firefighters ended up with minor injuries Saturday. One had heat exhaustion and the other a back injury from moving equipment, he said.
But it could have been worse.
Borer said firefighters got out of the church and within a matter of minutes there was an explosion — the result of oxygen mixing with smoke that had fire in it.
He said it didn’t help that the fire may have had a head start on them of an hour or more.
“When fire advances so far,” Borer said, “we were at a huge disadvantage.”
Moody said the church didn’t have a sprinkler system, and city fire inspectors don’t routinely inspect churches, as they do daycares and health clinics.
By 5 a.m., firefighters dispatched to Ninth and D saw flames shooting five to 20 feet out of the north basement windows of the church as they arrived.
Three hours later, they had the blaze under control, but parts of the building continued to burn after 8 a.m.
Borer said it was hard to work at the scene, with parishioners watching and some crying, knowing that they were doing what they could but that it wasn’t enough to save the Lincoln landmark.
The church sustained more than $2 million in damages, according to early estimates. Borer said they had insurance. And Cornhusker Bank has established a recovery fund for the church’s immediate needs.
There’s talk already about rebuilding.