Investigators are calling Saturday’s major fire at an Oconee County Church an accident.
The fire started Saturday morning at Walhalla Presbyterian Church on 600 East Main Street. It took 100 firefighters from eight departments to put it out.
The fire started on the second floor in a room where the church keeps all its sound equipment.
But the damage to the equipment inside that room is so extensive, Oconee County Fire Chief Charlie King said we’ll never know which piece of equipment started the fire.
The fire was difficult for State Sen. Thomas Alexander to watch.
“This is my home church that I grew up in -- baptized, Sunday school, all the way to today being a part of this congregation," said Alexander.
Church leaders got a first look inside the shell that remains of their church, trying to sort out what’s salvageable and what’s gone forever.
“The way they were able to contain the fire in various parts of the sanctuary gives us the opportunity to hopefully use some of what's there, the outer walls and things of that nature and some of the other parts," said Alexander.
The roof and the structure above the sanctuary is gone. But church leaders are hoping they can salvage the pews and some other things that have water damage but were not destroyed.
Members of Walhalla Presbyterian Church shared pews with their neighbors at St. Luke Methodist right across the street -- a church that caught fire in 2009.
Thomas said that newly-shared bond will give him and the rest of the congregation strength as they pick up the pieces.
“As tragic as yesterday was, as shocking as it was, the renewal is there, the energy is there to move forward and it was a blessing to be a part of that service this morning,” said Alexander.
The church was just months away from celebrating its 100-year anniversary.
But as big a part of the church's history smolders, the church’s interim pastor Ernie Gray said the congregation remains strong as they move forward together.
“One of my members was just pointing out the roof is mostly gone on our building, but you can see the sunlight coming in through the open holes in the roof, highlighting our beautiful stained glass windows. And she was remarking that is indeed a testimony that God is not through with us and that we still have a future together. And the light is still on," said Gray.