MADISON COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - A father and son are fighting for their lives in a St. Louis, Missouri hospital, following a violent explosion that nearly leveled a church near Marquand, Mo., on Wednesday night.
Robert Starkey, 78, and his son Steve Starkey, 43, were inside Mountain View Church, located off Highway A, when a propane furnace exploded.
The pastor at the church visited the Starkey's in the hospital Thursday and said they have severe burn marks, but are in stable condition and are trying to heal.
Jim Moore owns a grocery store in Marquand and was upset after hearing his longtime friend Bob Starkey and his son Steve were injured.
"They're a good family. I'd hate to hear that about anybody," Moore said. "They were typical Marquand. They were very friendly, very helpful. It's sad. I don't know how they are doing but I wish them the best."
Phillip Karn, the assistant fire chief for the Marquand Fire Protection District, was one of the first firemen on the scene and said the explosion came from a furnace in the basement that Bob and Steve were working on.
"Apparently the furnace went out, filled the cavity with propane, and when they tried to ignite it blew up," Karn said. "This is one of the largest fires in our district that we've had to respond to. It blew debris probably 50 feet through the basement doors. I'm sure it was terrifying, they're probably lucky to be alive."
Karn said the Starkey's were able to escape the church on their own, and a passerby who called 911 kept them in their car until the ambulance was able to take them to the hospital.
"We were going to try and life-flight them but the weather was too bad and they couldn't fly," Karn said.
When members of the fire marshal's office arrived at the church fire they told Karn and other firemen to let it burn but make sure it was contained.
All that is left of the church, which was rebuilt in 1999, part of the front entrance.
"It was a total loss," Karn said. "I'm sure they're upset. They've lost all their stuff, from their bibles to their classrooms."
The fire was ill-timed and comes days before Easter, leaving the rural congregation without a place to worship.
"I'm sure there would be another church in the area that would offer them their building because it's a close-knit community," Moore said.
The pastor of the church also confirmed that they're planning to use the fellowship hall for their Easter Sunday service at 10 a.m.
Authorities believe the cause of the fire was accidental and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was contacted but does not expect any foul play.