Fire chief: Malfunctioning furnace caused Prospect church blaze

Nov. 1—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — The Tuesday fire that destroyed Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in the Prospect section of Johnstown was caused by a malfunctioning furnace, authorities said on Wednesday.

The fire broke out at around 6:40 a.m. Tuesday at the church building on the 200 block of Peelor Street, which officials said is a total loss.

A state police fire marshal was called in and determined that the fire started in a utility room, said Robert Statler, Johnstown Fire Department chief.

"It was ruled an accidental fire," he said.

Statler said the fire rekindled overnight in the rectory section of the church and crews were back on the scene at 5 a.m. Wednesday.

"Because of the metal roof collapsing, there were areas we couldn't get to on Tuesday, and we had been keeping an eye on it," he said. "Crews brought some heavy equipment in and knocked the rest of the building down."

Pleasant Hill Baptist Church was established Nov. 12, 1944.

The Rev. Clyde Williams Jr., the church's pastor, said that they were able to salvage a piano, a church bell, hymnals and some photographs, including a poster of Martin Luther King Jr.

"Everything is waterlogged, and the piano is probably no good," he said. "I got my laptop out of there, and I'm going to take it to Best Buy and they might be able to get some stuff off the hard drive."

Williams said that among the items lost in the fire were church records and plaques honoring deceased parishioners.

"We've been advised not to go in because of all the water damage and it might cave in," he said.

Williams said the church family, which consists of 45 to 50 members who attend services regularly, were meeting on Wednesday to discuss their next steps moving forward.

"This Sunday, the pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church on Menoher Boulevard is allowing us to come in at 11:30 to have a service," he said. "I've been getting all kind of phone calls from different churches everywhere, offering their churches for us to have services anytime we need. I'm going around looking to see where we can go to have our regular Sunday service."

Williams said it makes him feel good to see the generosity.

"That's what the church is supposed to be; when one is down, another one is supposed to help," he said. "I'm very appreciative for all the love and support that people are showing us."

Williams added that church members are shocked and numb at the loss of their church, but he said they will get through it and rebuild.

"We know that God has something greater in store for us," he said.