Fire at upstate church prompts a fresh look at safety tips

SPARTANBURG—A recent fire at Jesus Our Risen Savior Church has officials asking all churches to take a close look at their safety precautions.

The blaze happened when an Advent wreath was left burning after a nighttime Mass. Apparently it fell to the floor and eventually set the wood flooring alight. Smoke alarms at the top of the church’s 20-foot ceilings did not go off, said Tracy Bates, claims/risk manager with Catholic Mutual Group. She said the smoke didn’t reach that high, but they are checking the alarms.

When altar servers, ushers and others arrived to set up for Mass the next morning, they opened the doors to a church filled with smoke and a small fire burning along the wood floor of the altar. Bates said the flames were getting near the crèche display filled with hay and surrounded by flowers and plants. Parishioners quickly extinguished the flames and called the fire department.


Adorno Father Edgardo Enverga, pastor, said they feel blessed the fire was localized and did not spread.

The insurance reserve for the claim is $55,000 and Bates said she thinks it will be just about that much to repair the floor and the extensive smoke damage. She added that water from the sprinkler system — which would have been activated by the smoke alarms — would have caused much more damage.

Insurance adjustors said electrical issues are the No. 1 cause of fire, but candles are second. They encourage everyone to follow the list of safety precautions provided by Catholic Mutual.


Here are a few of the top tips for churches:

1. Place noncombustible material such as tile, stone, marble, or granite beneath votive candle stands.

If candle stands are over carpet, place a fire-resistant mat or Plexiglas sheet underneath to reduce risk of fire and protect the floor from damage due to dropped matches or spilled candle wax.

2. Do not use candles from parishioners or visitors.

Only parish candles purchased by a reputable candle manufacturer may be displayed and lit. Many candles purchased at discount stores are improperly made and have been the source of numerous fires.

3. Keep candles away from combustible items such as linens, runners, or curtains.

Even flowers placed too close to a flame can ignite when they become dry.

4. Never leave a candle burning in an unoccupied room.

The only exceptions are votive candles or the sanctuary lamp candle, which are specifically manufactured to self-extinguish.

5. No lit candles on live or artificial holiday greenery.

Exception: Any artificial wreath such as an advent wreath must be fire retardant treated with candles set in protective containers.

The wreath at Jesus Our Risen Savior followed protocol, but ignited because it and the candles fell to the floor.