Faith amongst flames

First Baptist Church Texarkana catches fire; graduation plans go up in smoke


Photo courtesy of TXK Today

Story by Doug Kyles, staff writer

Horrified faces filled with disbelief, gazed upon plumes of smoke billowing from Texarkana’s largest church, and local monument, on the afternoon of March 8th. Members of First Baptist Texarkana watched seemingly helplessly as their beloved place of worship was threatened by the flames. Texarkana firefighters worked to slow the inferno, but by the time the fire had subsided, significant damage to the church had already been incurred. 

According to a statement published by the church itself, the fire broke out Sunday afternoon in the media offices and control rooms located under the balcony in the worship center. The fire suppression system was said to have performed as planned, and the Texarkana Fire Department was reported to have arrived on scene in less than five minutes. Four firefighters were sent to local hospitals for smoke inhalation, but all were discharged the same day with minimal injury. 

The fire system’s performance and local firefighter’s efforts combined made for the best response that could be expected to the outbreak of the fire. Even with this quick reaction, the fire moved so quickly that significant damage to the worship center could not be avoided.

“The Insurance Adjuster looked at the worship center, and he deemed it almost a total loss,” pastor Jeff Schreve said in a Facebook video updating his congregation on the situation. “It looks like we are just going to have to gut the whole thing and start over.”

The Facebook video was viewed by over ten thousand, and comment sections and related posts offer comfort to all those affected by the loss. And while the face of a familiar figure updating one on the situation is comforting to many members, few specific details of the damage were included. The statement published on the church’s website offered further insight into the extent of the damage. 

“While the fire damage itself was contained in the area under the balcony and a part of the worship center, water and smoke damage is immense,” the statement said. “Every surface in our entire facility is covered with a layer of black soot, and the air quality in the entire complex is so poor that workers are forced to wear specialized facemasks.”

The imagery of one’s place of worship and refuge, a place to feel comforted, going up in flames was powerful for those witnessing the situation whether in person or online through media outlets. Pastor Schreve and members of the church alike were distressed, and reassuring scripture couldn’t blunt the reality for those learning of the unfortunate situation.

“I couldn’t believe it,” FBC member and senior Nick Mitchell said. “I was just thinking how crazy it really was. I mean, I was just there.”

The effects of the fire are sure to include more than devastated reactions. The partial destruction of the facility creates a logistical nightmare. Church leadership now faces the challenge of finding a new place to host its thousands of weekly attendees. 

“We’ll probably be out of the worship center for six to eight months,” Schreve said. “We are grateful we have a facility flexible enough to get by with. We’ll use the gym. We’ll use the atrium. We’ll use the Fusion center. Anything to have our services.”

Through a combination of using unconventional spaces and sending overflow crowds to separate areas, First Baptist Church will likely manage. Those whose fate is more uncertain however, is the student population of Texas High. 

Every year, the annual senior graduation attracts such a large number of students and their families, that Texas High uses First Baptist’s much more capable facilities for the ceremony. However, after the fire, it’s apparent these facilities will not be available. No indoor space that Texas High could easily acquire would be able to host the ceremony, which leaves many wondering where, come late May, graduation will end up being hosted.

“We are meeting after Spring Break to make the plans,” Texas High Head Principal Carla Dupree said. “The most important thing to us is that we honor our graduates and ensure that it is a good experience for our graduates and their families. Until we have the meeting, I won’t be able to have many more answers.”

This means that officially, there are no current plans for where senior graduation might be held. The uncertainty of this leaves many seniors, although disappointed with the prospect, speculating that Tiger Stadium will host 2020 Student Graduation.

The fire has sent shockwaves through the community, it’s true, but there is still a place for optimism amidst the uncertainty. Efforts to correct the damage and eventually rebuild are already underway. Through the faithful eyes of church members and leaders, the obstacles the inferno has created are at most temporary.

“In the course of all of this, I just want to encourage all of us to remain joyful and flexible,” Pastor’s Wife Debbie Schreve said. “Things are constantly going to be changing through all of this, so we have to remind ourselves to remain joyful, and remain flexible.”