A lighting strike sent the Trinity Missionary Baptist Temple Church up in flames at about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, following a storm which passed through Hinesville. Church Pastor Lucile W. Smiley and a parishioner were inside the church when the storm passed through and the fire began.
Smiley told the Courier she was sitting at a desk inside the church office when she heard the lighting strike the 29-year old building. “Don’t tell me it hit the computer again?” she remembers saying. Minutes later, Smiley said she smelled something burning and heard a loud pop. She and her parishioner went to investigate. The parishioner went down the hallway while Smiley went into the sanctuary. As Smiley crossed the sanctuary, she glanced up and saw that the ceiling was on fire. Smiley then began to scream “fire” as she and the parishioner made it safely out the building.
Hinesville Fire Department Public Information Officer Captain Robert Kitchings confirmed a lighting strike caused the blaze. The HFD is working with the National Weather Service to confirm how many strikes hit the Hinesville area, according to Kitchings. Kitchings told the Courier that Hinesville Fire Chief Lamar Cook was first on the scene of the fire. As he waited for fire units to arrive, Cook witnessed the flames spread rapidly, resulting in the roof to collapse. Units from stations 11 and 22 responded as did mutual aid from Walthourville Volunteer Fire and Rescue, Fort Stewart and Liberty County Fire Services, according to a release from Hinesville Public Relations Manager Whitney Morris-Reed. Firefighters battled the blaze for about an hour before containing it. They then followed up by attending to hotspots. City officials said the church building has been declared a total loss.
A GoFundMe page for Trinity Missionary Baptist has been closed out and is no longer available. However, a fund has been set up at the Heritage Bank for donations.
Dan Scott with SEGAR (Southeast Georgia Radio) informed the Courier that a fundraiser for the church will be held from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday, June 8 at St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church, 48 Elim Road in Hinesville. The event, titled “Take Up The Collection,” asks residents to stop by and donate $1 or more. All proceeds will go directly to Trinity Missionary Baptist Temple to help the congregation get back on their feet. Drivers can simply drive up and drop off their donations without exiting their vehicles.