Home Church community Fire in Wooldridge destroys much of the town and damages the Baptist Church

Fire in Wooldridge destroys much of the town and damages the Baptist Church

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WOOLDRIDGE- A raging wildfire on Saturday, October 22 swept through this Cooper County village, nearly destroying the community and severely damaging the Baptist Church building. Wooldridge is a community of approximately 40 residents. The fire started in a nearby grain field, which was ignited by a faulty combine harvester.

Fifteen to 20 buildings were destroyed or damaged by the fire, according to the Columbia Missourian newspaper. Wooldridge Baptist Church was damaged, but officials report the fire was mostly confined to the ground. The building suffered extensive water damage to the walls and ceilings.

Firefighters were able to quickly remove the stained glass windows from the church building in order to protect them.

Pastor J. Wayne Merrill said the church was protected by firefighters. The town post office is next to the church and it was spared along with a school building. He said much of the rest of the lower part of town had burned down, except for a few buildings. The lower part of town had been badly damaged by the 1993 flood, and most commercial buildings there lay unoccupied.

There is an upper part of the city (built above the floodplain) that was largely unaffected by this fire.

Merrill said the church was spared the flames which destroyed buildings all around them, but then the ground began to smolder and had to be extinguished. This caused water damage to walls and ceilings. He thinks the general structure of the building is still intact and can be repaired. He hoped it wouldn’t be a total loss.

The church is still determining where they will meet for services next Sunday. They have options with several churches nearby, and they might meet at the home of a church member in town. Merrill said that usually about 15 people attend worship there.

According to Concord Baptist Association missions director Alan Earls, the church is a historic building. Association historian Roy Dameron reported that the church was established in 1900 and constructed the building in 1905.

Earls said: “This is a resilient church that loves the Lord. Although they are few in number, they love Jesus, and I believe they will see the light of Christ (continue to) shine in Wooldridge.

The church has property insurance, and they hope that will cover the damage. Earls added that there are volunteers in the association who can offer help in repairing the damage.

Pastor Merrill still felt a sense of grief and pain for members of the community whose homes had been burned down and who had been displaced by the fire. He believed around 15 family homes had been destroyed by the fast-moving fire. On Sunday October 23, officials said seven families were in a shelter set up in a Baptist church building in rural Booneville. Authorities said 20 to 25 buildings were burned or destroyed.

Missouri Baptist Convention Disaster Relief Director Gaylon Moss was able to visit these families Sunday morning and offer his assistance.