Church trustee: Workers using torch on roof likely sparked Sheraden fire |
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Tom Davidson

Workers using a torch on the roof at Sheraden United Methodist Church likely sparked a Monday afternoon fire that caused extensive damage to the 116-year-old church, the chairman of the church’s trustee board said Tuesday.

They were working on the roof in the rear of the building, said Rich Lane, chairman of the trustees.

“Once it got under the false ceiling, there was no stopping it,” Lane said.

Pittsburgh Fire Chief Daryl Jones said the cause remains under investigation and an investigator from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms walked the scene Tuesday.

The ATF investigator wasn’t authorized to comment, but he said the bureau investigates all fires at churches.

It’s too soon to know whether the building can be repaired, but it won’t stop the church from helping the people in the neighborhood, Lane said.

“The fire does not deter the faith of that congregation. They will move forward with their ministries. Things can be repaired and replaced” the Rev. Wayne Meyer, who retired July 1 as pastor of Sheraden United Methodist Church, said Tuesday. “We are grateful that no one was seriously injured.”

Lane and other church members spent Tuesday morning walking around the water-logged and ash-stained rubble inside the building. Daylight shined into the sanctuary that was riddled with debris.

Passersby stopped to survey the damage, and people who live near the church lamented the fire.

“It’s a shame,” Patrick McGowan said. “It’s an original church in Sheraden.”

He and Bill Conroy are partners at Conroy Funeral Home, two doors down Chartiers Avenue from the church. People in the area came together to help church members and firefighters Monday night, and the outpouring of support will continue, McGowan said.

Conroy was watching from the window of the funeral home and saw workers using a torch on the roof when the fire started, he said.

A similar fire happened about 25 years ago under similar circumstances at the church, but the damage then was less severe, Conroy said.

“This is really bad. We hate to see this. This is one of the last really viable churches in the area,” Conroy said.

McGowan added that the church meant a lot to the community. It did more than just hold Sunday services.

“It served seven days a week,” McGowan said.

The church offered monthly community meals, a summer lunch program for kids, thrift shop and other programs. The Kiwanis club met there, and city officials used the building for other events as well, Lane said. The fire won’t stop the church from continuing its programs, he said.

“As the community needs it, we open it,” Lane said.

Lane said that, although the damage was extensive, he’s not considering it a total loss yet.

The church will be looking for places to continue its programs as it deals with the fire. It’s about 30 active members will worship at Christ Community Church in McKees Rocks, which was a sister church to the congregation, Lane said.

“It will be really nice to get it back up and running,” Lane said.

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