Prayers and the determination of volunteer firemen from three area fire departments saved the Catholic church in Pinewood from burning to the ground yesterday afternoon.
Our Lady of the Way Church was struck by lightning around noon Tuesday. Fr. James Panikulam said he was near the church when the lightning struck and knew it was close.
But he did not realize at the time it actually had hit the church.
A few hours passed and the steeple smoldered away until it became evident that it was on fire. Smoke began to billow from the top of the structure and someone passing by on the highway reported it.
Tom McCormick of Pinewood said he noticed it around 2 p.m. and figured it had been smoldering for about two hours.
Three area fire departments—Pinewood, Rainy River, and Stratton—responded to the call and were on the scene by about 2:15.
Firemen quickly assessed the situation and climbed up two extension ladders to reach the bell tower. Apparently, a trap door from the inside of the church had been sealed from above several years ago and could not be opened.
Once in the tower, Rainy River firemen Stuart Dyck and Darren Lowes cut a hot in the base of the steeple and hit it with water from the department’s pumper truck.
As it ran out, the Pinewood pumper truck was connected to the Rainy River one to refill it.
About an hour later, the fire was out. Pieces of the inner wooden liner of the steeple came out under water pressure in black charcoal chunks.
The church, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last July, is insured.