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Do Not Burn

Prevent Church Fires

A man extinguishes an open fire with a fire extinguisher. Educating the public and office workers to use fire extinguishing agents

An article in a series based on the Safety Member Certification training module "Arson and Fire Safety and the Church Security Guide article Fire Safety in the Church"[1][2][3]

From the Bible

* Fire caused by carelessness:

Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? (Proverbs 6:27-28).

* Arson in the Bible:

And when [Samson] had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives.

Then the Philistines said, Who hath done this? And they answered, Samson, the son in law of the Timnite, because he had taken his wife, and given her to his companion. And the Philistines came up, and burnt her and her father with fire (Judges 15:5-6).

And [the Babylonians] burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof (2 Chronicles 36:19).

* No fuel, no fire:

Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out ... (Proverbs 26:20):

Introduction: The Ounce of Prevention

Benjamin Franklin coined, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," when urging residents of Philadelphia to prevent fires.

The cost of preventing a fire is much less than the loss likely to be caused by a fire. This is just as true today as it was in the 1700s, and it is a good motto for October, which is National Fire Prevention Month.

In the News

There are many causes of church fires. Here are a few in news stories:

* Arson

Salem, Oregon, August 31, 2023 - A fire in a Catholic Church in Salem was set before 2:30 am and damaged the sanctuary. By 7:00 am, an arson suspect was arrested.. The congregation is holding services in the gym until repairs are made.[4]

* Lightning

Savannah, Georgia, July 17, 2023 - Lightning struck the steeple of a 102-year-old church in Savannah. The resulting fire caused the steeple to fall. The quick response of fire departments saved the church building itself, but the ceiling of the sanctuary collapsed.[5]

* Candles wrongly placed

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, December 19, 2018 - A votive candle placed too close to flammables was the likely cause of a fire that damaged the sanctuary of a Sioux Falls Catholic Church.[6]

* Candles not completely extinguished

New York City, New York, May 1, 2016 - The fire that destroyed the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in New York City was likely caused by candles reigniting after the Orthodox Easter service. They were collected by a custodian and put into a cardboard box, but not all were fully extinguished.[7]

* Furnace malfunction

Adelphi, Maryland, Decamber 9, 2003 - The cause of a fire early on a Tuesday morning was a faulty furnace. The fire was in a school attached to a church.[8]

* Gas leak

Hostyn, Texas, June 9, 2022 - An explosion and fire that destroyed a Catholic Church in the community of Hostyn, Texas, probably started with a gas leak ignited by a votive candle. An elderly woman preparing for the Thursday morning mass was severely burned and died 12 days later.[9][10]

Reduce the Odds of a Fire

Every church should plan for fire evacuations and hold fire drills. Likewise, each church should have operable fire extinguishers and train members in how to use them. These measures are important just in case there is a fire. At the same time, we also need to focus on preventing fires, whether accidental or intentional.

What are the Causes of Church Fires?

The news stories above cite arson, lightning, candles, furnace malfunction, and gas leaks as causes of church and school fires. Besides these, there are several other causes of fires, including smoking, trash burning, electrical shorts and overloads, space heaters, kitchen fires, flammables too close to heat sources, vehicle fires, etc.

Blocking Fire Causes

Many of these fire causes are relatively easy to identify and prevent.

Seek Expert Advice

Look to your local fire department and your insurance provider for advice on how to prevent fires. Some denominational offices have guides to fire safety.

Have the fire department go with you through the church. They will see things you may miss.

Your insurance company has a vested interest in helping you prevent fires.


Do what you can to prevent church fires.

Training Notes

"Arson and Fire Safety" is one of eight Safety Member Certification training modules (classes). This class is scheduled for October 15 in Online Events (live Zoom classes).

Another training resource is the Church Security Guide article "Fire Safety in the Church."

You can learn more from Kris's videocasts on the YouTube channel Sheepdog Church Security Academy, The audios are on Church Securty Roll Call podcasts.[12][13]


  1. Kris Moloney, "Arson and Fire Safety," Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [].
  2. Kris Moloney, Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2018 [].
  3. Kris Moloney, "Fire Safety in the Church," Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, 2019 [].
  4. KGW Staff, "Arson suspect in custody after fire damages Salem church," KGW8, August 31, 2023 [].
  5. Emily Dietrich and Eden Hodges, "102-year-old church's steeple, roof destroyed in fire caused by lightning strike," WSAV, July 17, 2023, updated: July 18, 2023 [].
  6. News Staff, "Sioux Falls church fire likely started by candle," KSFY/KDLT, December 19, 2018 [].
  7. Shawn Cohen and Chris Perez, "Massive cathedral fire may have been caused by church candles," New York Post, May 3, 2016 [].
  8. Hamil R. Harris, "Furnace Malfunction Triggers School Fire," Washington Post, December 11, 2003 [].
  9. KTRK News Staff, "1 injured in Texas church explosion, possibly caused by gas leak, Fayette Co. sheriff says," KTRK, June 9, 2022 [].
  10. Josh Blaschke, "Woman Injured in Hostyn Church Explosion Dies," KWHI, June 21, 2022 [].
  11. Staff, "Candle fires are becoming all too common," Church Mutual, After 2010 [].
  12. Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Church Security Academy, YouTube [].
  13. Kris Moloney, Church Security Roll Call, SoundCloud [].