Church near West Olive damaged in large fire

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OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) – A massive fire heavily damaged a church near West Olive in Ottawa County Friday morning.

The fire was reported around 8:30 a.m. after smoke was seen coming from the steeple at Faith United Reformed Church, located on 120th Avenue near Port Sheldon in Olive Township.

Fortunately, no one was inside the church at the time of the fire.

Black smoke from Faith United Reformed Church billows into the sky as firefighters work to extinguish the flames. (Courtesy Dave DeJonge/May 13, 2016)

>>PHOTOS: Ottawa Co. church fire

“Stuff is stuff. We’ll take care of that when we need to, and all the rest we are just thankful for. That no one had been hurt,” Pastor Matthew Nuiver said Friday.

Nuiver was first to arrive on the scene. After that, at least 15 to 16 fire departments, including tankers from Muskegon and Allegan, were called in to help bring in water because there are no fire hydrants in the area.

“Once it got into the attic, it’s pretty hard to put a stop on that,” said Olive Township Fire Chief Duane Wolters.

Viewer video obtained by 24 Hour News 8 shows the church steeple hanging from the side of the building before crashing to the ground. At one point, smoke from the fire could be seen more than ten miles away.

Among all the firefighters stood members of the congregation, sharing tears and hugs as they watched their worship center go up in flames.

“I’m crying because we will miss it,” said an emotional Pauline Dyke, who has been a member since the church formed in 1994.

As crews eventually knocked down the blaze, those who spend their Sundays at the church flashed back to all that has happened inside: marriages, celebrations, and final farewells. For Marc Jaarsma, it was the baptism of his four children.

“Those memories can’t burn. Those milestones, and those special occasions,” Jaarsma told 24 Hour News 8.

Fire crews were able to pull some valuable keepsakes from the rubble, including a Bible, which is hundreds of years old, and burnt but not destroyed.

Also saved was the shovel Pauline Dyke and her late husband Harris donated it for the church’s groundbreaking back in 1997.

“It’s God’s plan. He did this. He saved it for us,” Dyke said of the shovel. “That means you got to do it over.”

The worship center is destroyed, but a firewall protected the large fellowship hall that’s connected to the building. Wolters said that area only suffered minor smoke and water damage.

Pastor Nuiver took over at Faith United Reformed Church in January. He said they have already received a huge outpouring of support from other churches offering up sanctuary space. Nuiver said he will meet with the church council and decide where to hold services this coming Sunday.

“That bit, of being Body of Christ, is a huge, huge blessing,” Nuiver said of the support. “We are looking forward to being able to worship on Sunday and praise the Lord.”

The cause of the fire is unknown, but fire officials said it is not considered suspicious at this time. Investigators will work to determine the cause over the next few weeks.

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