Lightning destroys El Dorado house and Moline church that dated back to 1800s

Lightning from the powerful line of thunderstorms that rolled through the Wichita metropolitan area early Friday morning is being blamed for a fire that destroyed a house in El Dorado and a church in Moline that dated back to the late 1800s.

The owner of the house was awakened by a smoke detector shortly after 2:30 a.m. and found smoke filling the second floor of the three-bedroom house at 321 N. Star that was built in 1880. Firefighters were on scene within eight minutes, El Dorado Fire Capt. Ricke Whiteside said.

The fire ignited and spread inside a 6-inch crawl space between the roof and the second-floor ceiling, Whiteside said, and crews had to peel off the roof and pull down the ceiling to get to the flames.

“Basically, it’s going to be a total loss,” Whiteside said. “There’s no roof or ceiling on the second floor” and the first floor sustained heavy water damage.

As the storms moved east, lightning hit the bell tower of the Moline Christian Church, which Pastor Stan Rumbaugh said may be as much as 130 years old.

Lightning struck the bell tower of the Moline Christian Church shortly before 3 a.m., starting a fire that destroyed the building dating back to the 1880s.

“For a block around the church, people were talking about how felt the shock and heard it” when the lightning hit shortly before 3 a.m.

Though strong gusts of wind hit Moline periodically through the night, Rumbaugh said they were relatively calm while the church burned, sparing St. Mary Catholic Church next door. When the bell tower fell, it missed the house to the north by only a foot or two.

The fire burned the structure down to the brick walls that were installed when the basement was added in 1926, Rumbaugh said. The concrete staircase to the front door now looks like the jump-off point to “the pit” that used to be the basement, he said.

Witnesses said the lightning struck the bell tower, and fire quickly spread through the church, which was about 130 years old.

Folks sorting through the rubble have found pieces of the church bell, as well as reminders of what was used as building materials in the 1880s.

“We’ve been picking up a handful of square nails,” Rumbaugh said.

The 40-member congregation will meet at the American Legion building this Sunday.

“We’re looking at kicking prospects and ideas around” for what they can do down the road, Rumbaugh said. They’ll get a better feel for the possibilities once they get the insurance check from the agent.

For now, as they sifted through the rubble on Friday, it was time to remember – and mourn the loss of the only home they’ve had since the 1800s.

“Some of the emotional feelings are starting to come out,” Rumbaugh said, struggling to keep his voice from breaking.