Clayton County

Fire started by lightning strike destroys church in Clayton County

CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga. — A local congregation will have to worship somewhere else after a massive fire destroyed their church.

Firefighters say a lightning strike ignited the blaze at Bethel Baptist Church in Clayton County.

Church members say it’s a blessing the fire happened after the service ended.

[DOWNLOAD: Free WSB-TV News app for alerts as news breaks]

“The congregation had left an hour before,” Josue Cortez, the pastor’s son, told Channel 2′s Tom Jones.

It was a fully involved fire that roared through the church Sunday, leaving the building a total loss.

All of this was caused by a lightning strike.

“They’re destructive as we can see behind us,” Interim Fire Chief Tim Sweat said.

Sweat said the lightning strike was so forceful it knocked the steeple off its base and fell in front of the church on Flint River Road.

It happened that evening around 6.

One of the pastor’s sons would have still been there at that time.

But there was a problem.

“The only day the internet stopped working,” Cortez explained.

So he left with everyone else.

An hour later, severe storms swept through the area.

The pastor’s son would have been in the media room under the steeple if the internet had worked.

“God is good. That’s all we can say. God is good,” Cortez said about fate keeping his brother safe.

The fire chief said the lightning hit the peak of the roof behind the steeple.

The strike energized the attic and set off the massive fire.

“Our crews quickly went into a defensive mode,” Sweat said.

It took about 3 hours to get the fire under control.

Church members came back and watched crews put out the fire.


“A lot of them were out here crying. A lot of them were pouring out. Many of them had the understanding that God’s will is above everything else,” Cortez said. “God is willing. We will build back. Bigger. Better.”

The church has been here for over 50 years, according to the pastor’s son.

So where will they worship now?

Felicia Franklin, the county commissioner for the area, has offered to let the church use the nearby community center for now.

The pastor said he is weighing that offer along with an offer from another church to use their sanctuary.

[SIGN UP: WSB-TV Daily Headlines Newsletter]