David Haas Memorial Methodist destroyed in Sunday night fire


   Bystanders stood in the autumn cold and shook their heads in disbelief as they watched fire fighters battle the flames consuming David Haas Memorial Methodist Church this past Sunday night (Nov. 20).
   The church, located on Church Street in Bunkie, was fully engulfed in flames as fire departments from Avoyelles and Rapides parishes arrived to try to save the building and protect other structures.
   The current church building opened in 1952 and is one of the most photographed buildings in Bunkie.
   “The church is the people, not the building,” Rev. Brian Ridgedell said Monday morning. “It is a strong church community, but the long-time church members are hurting because of the memories they have of the church.”
   Ridgedell and his wife were asleep in the parsonage next to the church when they were awakened by a church member knocking on their front door and former Mayor Gerard Moreau knocking on their back door.
    Fire fighters were able to save the parsonage. The church’s education building was damaged but can be repaired.
    There were no injuries in the incident.
Worship in Evergreen
    The congregation will hold services at the Methodist church in Evergreen this Sunday  starting at 10:50 a.m.
    “We will be talking to the insurance company before we make a decision on how to rebuild the church,” Ridgedell continued. “The walls are still standing.”
    In what some see as a symbolic picture of the church itself, the cross behind the pulpit was still standing, untouched by the inferno that destroyed the rest of  the sanctuary.
    “The cross remained while it had flames all around it,” Ridgedell said. “It gives us encouragement.”
    A fire truck remained on the scene Monday morning to put out hot spots in what remained of the church. Investigators with the State Fire Marshal’s Office were also on the scene, trying to determine the cause of the fire.
    “It’s still too early to tell where the fire started and how the fire started,” Bunkie Fire Chief Joey Frank said Monday morning. “It was a major blaze  that was hard to get under control.” 
    Ridgedell said investigators told him that while the cause of the fire is still undetermined, it is not arson.
   Frank thanked all the fire departments, firefighters and volunteer firemen that responded to the call. Besides the Bunkie Fire Department, units from  Hessmer, Cottonport, Evergreen, Lecompte, Cheneyville and Mansura were on hand. Frank said there may have been others that he did not see.
    This was the biggest fire in Bunkie since the McNabb building burned in September 2008. 
   The fire was reported at 10 p.m. Sunday. When Bunkie firefighters arrived, there was heavy smoke throughout the two-story structure. The fire apparently began in the back of the church. Once it reached the attic, it quickly spread throughout the structure.
   Frank said the fire was under control by 12:30 a.m. Monday. Most of the firefighting efforts were concluded by 4:30 a.m., but one unit was still at the church until almost noon. During the height of the blaze, flames erupted through several sections of the church.
   Mansura’s large ladder truck was used to allow firefighters to pump water down onto the church’s roof to help contain the blaze.
   “When I received the page and went to my front door, you could see the fire was fully engulfing the back of the church,” Moreau said. “I told my wife that David Haas was lost.” 
   Moreau lives a block from the church and also helped battle the blaze.
   Church members arriving on the scene couldn’t believe what they were seeing as the home of the 128-year-old congregation burned.
   “This is devastating to our church community,” Billy Tebow said as he stood across the street from the blaze. “There is fire insurance, but there is never going to be enough. There is a valuable, treasured pipe organ that is lost as well as church records and other valuable items.”
    Church Secretary Cleo Breaux said some records were saved from the fire but noted that the records are backed up at Centenary College in Shreveport.
Church History
    The church began in 1888 when Col. Alexander M. Haas and Capt. Samuel Haas sold land to the Methodist Episcopal Church-South for $50 on March 16, 1888. The church was organized on April 1, 1888. In January 1889, Rev. S.H. Whatley was appointed as the church’s first pastor and the congregation’s first church building was constructed later that year.
    An education building was constructed in 1941 under the leadership of Rev. R.M. Bentley. Most of the labor used in its construction was volunteered. 
   While Dr. W.L. Doss served as pastor, the old church was torn down and a new one built. 
   Funds for the building of a new sanctuary in 1951-52 came from Col. and Mrs. W.D. Haas Jr., in memory of their son who had been killed in a plane accident. The church was renamed the William David Haas III Memorial Methodist Church. the parsonage was built that same y ear.
    The pipe organ and stained glass windows were installed as part of the sanctuary construction project. The windows depict various symbols from Christ’s life. The parsonage was also built the same year.
   In 1957, under the pastorship of Rev. J.J. Caraway, the church bought land next to the parsonage from the proceeds of the sale of another house and a donation willed to the church by Col. Franklin T. Mikell.
   In 1958, an educational wing was constructed and the parsonage was remodeled to add a large family room. The parsonage was expanded in 1984.