CHRISTOPHER, IL (KFVS) - A Heartland community is left in shock after a well-known landmark goes up in flames. Firefighters were called to the First Baptist Church just before 4:30 Monday morning. Fire crews say the blaze started in the back of the building and spread forward in just a few hours.
Crews were back on scene Tuesday morning. Christopher Fire Captain Tim Crawford says crews are tearing down part of the wall so investigators can get inside and look around. He says the investigation will take a few days.
Jim and Phyllis Kirkpatrick just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. Six decades ago, the happy couple stood outside the First Baptist Church smiling. For decades the Kirkpatrick's have lived just behind the church. But Monday morning they got a surprise wake up.
"Got up and went to the door and they told us the fire was out there," Jim Kirkpatrick said.
"I'm very sad," Phyllis Kirkpatrick said. "I went there all my life. My children, I took them to church every Sunday there. We just grew up in this neighborhood"
Debbie Kretz, the Kirkpatrick's daughter, says she got a call an early morning call about the fire and rushed to check on her parents.
"When I got here flames were coming out and coming into their garage," Kretz said. "Well, the debris from the church was on top of the garage, so we were worried if I would have to get my mom out of the house or not."
Kretz uses a the wheelchair ramp in the back of the house to get her mother out, which Monday morning was just a few steps from a massive fire. But Kirkpatrick never had to leave her home, thanks to efforts by several area fire fighters.
"We have a mutual aid agreement from surrounding communities. It involved probably a good 30-35 fire fighters fighting that structure this morning." Christopher Fire Captain Tim Crawford said.
Pastor Terry Musgrave lives next door to the church. He has been the pastor of the church for 15 years and was at home when the fire started. He says the church averages about 25 in attendance. Monday afternoon Heartland News caught up with Musgrave, who had no comment.
But Kirkpatrick says for several years on Sundays many people walked in the front doors. She adds what happened to the church is a real loss for the community.
"I'm just sorry that it happened," Kirkpatrick said. "I don't think it can be replaced."
Both the Illinois State Fire Marshal and ATF agents are investigating the fire.