Historic Church Destroyed in Fire

Smoldering bricks lay on the ground in northern Rusk County. They used to form the walls of Pirtle Methodist Church. During the early Monday morning hours, Pirtle Methodist Church Pastor Bill Turner received a phone call telling him his church was on fire. "It was far enough gone that even the fire department was having to stand back and say it was too late. When I got out here, it wasn't much different than what you see now."

Sunday, the church looked much different than the smoke stained ruins which still remain. Bright red bricks supported a pristine white steeple. That building replaced the original Pirtle Methodist Church which was destroyed in a 1930's tornado.

But Pirtle's history is not limited to the building. Legend says the tree out in front was the site for troop recruits during the civil war. Nearly half the branches of the tree were charred from the heat of the fire.

All day Monday, members of the congregation stopped by to remember their personal histories with the ruined building. Turner says he was moved by the story of one church elder in particular. "She's in her 90's and talking about the fact that her mother's funeral service was here, and her father's and her husband's and it's been her church for over 90 years. It's got a lot of history."

The debris is still too hot for investigators to sift through. When it cools, they'll begin looking for clues about what caused the fire in the first place. ATF officers say they don't want to jump to conclusions, and have not ruled out any possible cause, including arson.

There's nothing much left inside the church. Wooden pews, metal chairs, and even the church's filing cabinet were all consumed in the morning's fire. But the congregation says at least their spirit is still standing.