(WBIR) A Dandridge church had just finished their Saturday evening service when a member smelled smoke. By the time firefighters arrived, fire completely consumed the House of Prayer Church.
Christina Cardona of Dandridge said, "We were at my parents' house about four miles down the road and we saw it."
There is nothing left of the Hopewell Street church, Dandridge Volunteer Fire Chief Andy Riley said.
Chief Riley said the department received the call at 8:30 p.m. and an engine arrived within three minutes of the call. He said the building was fully involved when they arrived. Their firefighters were forced into defensive mode to protect nearby buildings.
No one was inside the church at the time of the fire.
Dandridge Volunteer Fire Department called in back up support from neighboring departments. Within 45 minutes, Chief Riley said, they had the fire put out but stayed on scene until after midnight to keep hot spots from reigniting.
Pastor Frances Branner said the church was once a home and the owner allowed them to worship in the building rent-free. The House of Prayer had been meeting for more than 40 years.
Branner said, "This little place up has really been my life because I've tried to help so many people out of this little old building. And to look at the loss, I feel not only for myself but for other people."
Branner also operated a ministry out of the church where he would collect items and donate them to people in need.
Branner's son, Roy Branner, said, "She was well-respected in the community for helping other people with their light bills,or their water bills, or if they were just getting married, or if they had a burnout."
Brenda Shaver of Dandridge said, "Any time anybody gets burned out she is always there to help them. They don't have to ask for the help. She finds them."
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Pastor Branner said she did not have insurance on the building. Donations for House of Prayer may be made at First Tennessee Bank.