LINCOLN COUNTY, Okla. (KFOR) – Lincoln County investigators believe an arsonist is to blame for several fires in the area.
The flames burned through 400 acres, forced several people from their homes, destroyed a vacant structure, and severely damaged a historic church.
“This little church here was a blessing to many and was going to be and still can be,” said Michael Bateman, the new owner of the church. “It’s just heartbreaking.”
The Forest Baptist Church has been a staple in Chandler since 1947.
Bateman said the building was about to get a facelift, so it could be a place of worship for The Jeremiah House, a substance abuse recovery program. However, Sunday’s fires put those plans on hold.
“The wind was so strong that it just blew [the flames] straight south here. Embers caught the top of our church and you can see the results,” Bateman told KFOR. “The rafters of the roof, everything’s caved in. I mean, it’s just inundated with smoke and everything.”
The Chandler and Sparks fires were fueled by strong winds and damaged around 400 acres.
The Lincoln County Sheriff said 200 firefighters across Lincoln, Pottawatomie, and Oklahoma counties were called in to put out the flames and evacuate people from their homes.
Now investigators believe someone started the blazes.
Sheriff Charley Dougherty and Department of Agriculture arson investigators believe the fires in Chandler, Sparks, and Davenport were likely started by the same person. A fire in Cushing may also be linked.
“We do have a person of interest that we’re working with,” said Sheriff Dougherty. “If you saw something, please come forward and let us know what you saw.”
Sheriff Dougherty said not only did the suspect put lives at risk, but the fires caused costly problems.
“A couple of trucks got tore up. So, there’s money along with that,” said the sheriff.
Meanwhile, Bateman is putting his faith over fear and is determined to bounce back.
“I have never seen the enemy fight so hard to try to keep an organization in ministry not to open as much as this,” said Bateman. “Satan knows what were going to do here, for the better.”
Bateman is hoping the Lincoln County community will help him gather the funds to repair the church. He said the help is looking promising.
Sheriff Dougherty also said a firefighter hurt his knee during the fires, but he was quickly treated on scene.