(Times Photo by Murray Bishoff)
The fire was in one of Monett's historic buildings, the 1922 three-level brick building constructed as the Monett Masonic Lodge. A business person in the vicinity stepped out into the street, spotted the blaze and called it in at 5:34 p.m.
"It got a good start on us," said Monett Fire Chief Tom Jones. "The building was full of smoke on every floor."
Fire was shooting out of the window in Pastor Chad Bennett's office as firefighters arrived. The first team of four firefighters went in the front door while another team hit the fire from the outside with water. The cold water prompted an eruption of billowing smoke, causing the firemen on the lawn to disappear from view until they poured on enough water to reverse the situation.
Jones said the fire appears to have started in the pastor's office and was electrical in nature. A wall dividing Bennett's office from a nursery and meeting room was engulfed by flames. The fire worked its way through a closed door into the adjacent room.
Flames consumed the dropped ceiling in the room, causing it to collapse. Above that was a plaster and lathe ceiling that was scorched, but before the fire could penetrate it, the firemen were fully into the battle.
"The guys got there just at the right time," Jones said. "If it had had a couple more minutes, it would have gone through. If the fire had got more air to it, it would have been another story. It helped that all the windows were shut."
Fire damage was confined to the two offices on the first floor. Carpeting burned as well, but the fire did not penetrate to the basement.
Jones had the ladder truck set up beside the building on Bond Street. Had the fire breeched the ceiling and gotten into the wood-lined assembly hall on the upper floor, the side windows would have offered better access for getting water inside, the chief said.
Monett Rural firefighters as well as both Pierce City city and rural departments were called in on mutual aid. Jones had each department set up at hydrants a block to the north, south and west to provide a full coordinated attack.
Teams equipped with breathing equipment relieved firemen coming out of the structure and went in to look for hot spots. Fans were placed inside the building to vent smoke, giving onlookers the impression the fire was still smoldering.
Among the firemen on duty were Kevin Cloud and Randall Prock, both members of the Monett Masonic Lodge that used to meet in the building. Jones said it was very helpful to have detailed knowledge of the building, with Cloud giving firemen directions on where to go through the smoke.
Jones said the department used its new heat-sensitive camera to identify hot spots, including temperature. When firemen were finished, the camera provided confidence that the fire had been extinguished.
The upper level of the church sustained smoke and heat damage. Equipment stored in the basement got wet and was covered with tarpaulins from the department, as water would continue to drain into the basement through the evening.
Jones noted the fire did not require nearly as much water as some blazes. Church leaders took advantage of the early evening hour to get wood to start sealing the broken windows.
"Our guys did a terrific job," Jones said. "Everything worked like clockwork. These fires are never fun, never easy to work. We were very lucky. It could have been a lot worse."
Firemen were back in the station after 90 minutes of work.
Due to the fire, Monett Community Church will meet at 10 a.m. on Sunday at the old Methodist Church located at 400 Fourth St.