A well-known pastor and his family lost much of what they own when fire gutted their brick home beside Fort Creek Baptist Church in McDuffie County on Sunday night.
The Rev. Phil Bray and his wife, Harriett, left for a Thanksgiving trip to North Georgia following evening worship service. The couple was not at home when the fire was discovered about 10 p.m. by one of the church deacons.
"We could see smoke and a big orange glow as we neared the church," said Deacon George Hayes, noting he and his family had gone to eat out in Wrens and were returning to the church to pick up his truck. "The flames were boiling out three windows on the end closest to the church sanctuary."
A portion of the home's roof also was collapsing at the time, added Mr. Hayes, who lives near Dearing.
Mr. Hayes, retired from the military, said he ran over to the burning structure and broke the driver's side window out of the pastor's Volkswagen.
"I didn't want it to burn up, too," Mr. Hayes said in an interview at the scene. "I pushed it out of the driveway and into a ditch."
While breaking out the car window, Mr. Hayes received lacerations to both of his hands. He said he was going to Dwight David Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon for treatment, indicating he was told he might need some stitches.
Mr. Hayes later telephoned 911 to report the fire.
Charles Bray, who had been living in a camper beside the church parsonage, said his parents had gone to Rockmart. The Rev. Bray and Mrs. Bray reportedly were reached a short time after the fire and were en route back to the area late Sunday.
The Rev. Bray has served as pastor of Fort Creek Baptist Church for the past seven years.
More than 20 firefighters/first responders with the McDuffie County Fire/Rescue Services arrived on the scene minutes later and began battling intense flames and thick smoke as a steady, cold rain fell. Firefighters stayed at the scene until early Monday.
Assistant Chief Stephen Sewell said a cause of the fire was not immediately known. He was planning to return to the scene to sift through debris this morning in an effort to discover the cause.