An early morning fire ripped through the Fruita Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, causing extensive damage to the building.
A crew with the Lower Valley Fire Protection District responded shortly after 4 a.m. to the church building at 417 E. Ottley Ave., said Fire Chief Frank Cavaliere. When the crew arrived, the fire had already spread through the main section of the building.
“The main body of the fire was through the roof when we arrived on scene,” Cavaliere said about 9 a.m. Monday. “We’ve just been battling it. We’ve been having a lot of trouble getting to a lot of the areas in the loft, the attic areas.”
Multiple agencies responded to the fire with Lower Valley Fire Protection District being the lead agency. Cavaliere said the Grand Junction Fire Department assisted with two ladder trucks and a fire engine. The damage to the building was so extensive Cavaliere said they were being especially mindful of the safety of the firefighters in the building.
“Because of the structural instability of the building, we’re being very careful with our crews,” Cavaliere said. “We’re just working in a little bit at a time.”
Sylvia Brady is a member of the church and her home is nearby. She said she was devastated by the loss of the building and, though she did not have to evacuate, was worried the fire could impact her home.
“We could see the flames. So it was scary,” Brady said. “They did block off the road that’s directly in front of my house clear up to the chapel there. So, of course, there was a little bit of fear that there would be a main gas line catch that could affect all of our homes.”
Aimee Patrick walked with her family to see the damage to the church, which she said she attended the day before. She said she was grateful to the firefighters for the work they were doing to limit the damage to the building.
“It’s shocking and it brings tears,” Patrick said. “It’s sad to see something you love damaged and destroyed. We saw the windows where we were just sitting yesterday morning blown out by the fire.”
Craig Stagg, president of the Grand Junction Colorado West Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said they will move the church’s three congregations to other churches in the community. He said the stake has four church buildings, including the Ottley Avenue building, and 10 congregations.
“What we’ll do is just move these three congregations in Fruita into some of the other buildings that are owned by the church where other congregations meet,” Stagg said. “It will be a little crowded, but it will work out well.”
The decision on what to do with the building will be made by the church after a safety review is done, Stagg said. He said he was grateful there were no injuries from the fire and that he was hopeful in the end everything will work out.
“That building has been there since the early 1960s,” Stagg said. “It’s been well-used and a lot of people are very attached to worshiping in that building. So it was sad to see it.”
Firefighting crews were expected to be on scene all day to ensure the fire was completely put out.
After that, an investigation will be done to determine the cause, Cavaliere said.
This is not the first time there has been a fire in this building, Brady said. She said there is a painting of Jesus Christ that hangs prominently inside the building that she felt was special to many people who worshiped there, which was saved from both fires.
“That picture has already been through another fire that happened in this building, and it was damaged by smoke. This time it also was damaged by smoke, but it survived,” Brady said. “To me, I think it’s kind of a symbol of how the congregations of our church will continue to survive.”