Historic Portsmouth church catches fire twice on Wednesday

UPDATE: Fire crews responded to Monumental United Methodist Church a second time on Wednesday, around 6 p.m. Reporter Lex Gray captured video from the scene, which shows the fire inside the church’s steeple. Stay with WAVY.com for updates as we learn more about how the fire rekindled.


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A historic church caught fire Wednesday morning in downtown Portsmouth.

“Somebody screamed the steeple’s on fire,” said Bart Tuthill, an attorney who works next door. “At that point it was nothing but smoke, and then all of a sudden kapoof!”

From WAVY’s Tower Cam 10, flames could be seen engulfing the steeple of Monumental United Methodist Church.

Portsmouth Fire Chief James Hoffler says the fire stopped at the steeple of the church and never made it into the sanctuary.

Church treasurer Robert Scott hopes the sanctuary can be saved.

“We’d like to be able to get inside and find out the extent of the damage inside the sanctuary itself, so that we can figure out what we need to do next.”

The Monumental congregation began in 1772, changed locations a few times and then settled on Dinwiddie in the 1830s.

“It’s a landmark, been around longer than most people have been breathing,” said Cheryl Freeland, who works across the street at Longboards Restaurant.

Burning debris from the church caught several other buildings in the surrounding area on fire, including a significant fire on the roof of Baron’s Pub located directly behind the church, Hoffler said.

All units from the Portsmouth Fire Department were on the scene as well as the Chesapeake Fire Department, United States Navy personnel and other cities, according to Hoffler.

Hoffler said no one was injured and the fire remains under investigation. Renovations on the steeple were underway from damage done during hurricane Matthew.

Gallery: Historic Church on Fire in Portsmouth


WATCH: Additional coverage of the church fire in downtown Portsmouth. App users can watch here.


The church has been on the Virginia Landmarks Register since 2004.

The church posted to Facebook Wednesday that firefighters were able to get the fire under control. All the church staff were safe, according to the post.

Stay with WAVY.com for the latest developments.