Lightning cause of two-alarm fire at Portsmouth church

(Bill Cole/WAVY Photo)

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The Portsmouth Fire Department confirmed Thursday that it was lightning that sparked a two-alarm fire that destroyed a church in Portsmouth Wednesday evening.

Firefighters were called to the Mount Sinai Family Life Christian Center on Columbus Avenue around 6:30 p.m. The call came in as a lightning strike to a home. Firefighters arrived on scene and discovered the church fully engulfed in flames.

Gallery: Fire at Portsmouth church

At one point, 11 fire units were on scene working to battle flames, which were contained to the church.

“With the weather, the size of the building and the amount of fire that was present, it will take some time to fully extinguish that, and they’ll be out here for quite some time after that just to ensure it is completely out,” said Acting EMS Manager Amy Ward.

No one was inside the church when the fire started.

Pastors Ronald and Frances Knight Thompson say congregation members alerted them to the fire.

“Streets were flooded, traffic was awful, firetrucks were everywhere. The hook and ladder guys were shooting water. It was something I’ve never seen or experience before,” Pastor Ronald Thompson said.

Thompson says the congregation has been housed in the building since 2001, but the building is over 100 years old.

There was supposed to be a bible study around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday before the fire started.

“It’s hard pressed to describe. I can see charred things I can recognize and to think all the years we’ve been here, all the experiences we’ve had, to see it all charred and burned, it’s painful. I’m still hopeful because I believe in God because he’s yet in control,” Thompson said.

Thompson and his wife say they’re relying on the same message they preach — seeing hope through tragedy — to get through these tough times and continue to serve the community.

“There have been weddings, funerals. We serve the homeless dinners each month. There are so many things done here and we think this is the area we’re called to serve,” Frances Knight Thompson said.

The church still plans to meet on Sunday in a building across the street.

They’ve also set up a GoFundMe account to help cover costs.

The Thompsons are working now to get the church back up on its feet. They want to thank all the people who have wished them well and the firefighters who battled the massive blaze.

“I want them to know we appreciate their efforts and we want the congregation to know we are going to get together Sunday and rebuild and come back stronger than ever.”

Stay with WAVY.com for updates on this developing story.