An East Tampa pastor barely escaped a burning church alive after the building went up in flames early Monday morning.
Tampa firefighters responded to the Celestial Church of God after getting reports of heavy smoke. While the fire marshal investigator was on scene conducting the investigation, he noticed an area that required additional overhaul and called fire crews back to the scene to extinguish the smoldering area of the structure.
The investigation revealed that the fire originated in the main assembly area near the choir seating. The ignition source was a malfunction of an electrical outlet in that area. The fire caused major damage throughout the building estimated at $59,000.
Pastor Moses Anisere, a visiting pastor from Nigeria, was asleep inside the church when he awoke to thick, black smoke filling his lungs.
"I was sleeping," he told ABC Action News. "I looked around. I did not see anybody to call."
He managed to escape the building and flagged down a passing driver, who helped Anisere call the fire department.
People who attend the church woke up to frantic phone calls.
"Grandma, grandma, the church is on fire!" is what Kehinde Oladapo's granddaughter shouted on the phone.
She was terrified because she knew Anisere was sleeping inside.
"I was shaking because I know this man of God was inside the church," Oladapo said.
She tried his cellphone and got no answer. She rushed to the church.
"I was so scared," Oladapo said. "What happened to him? So I go here, I see the fire people here. I talked to them and couldn't see. I said, 'Where is he?' And they said, 'Oh, he's fine, he's fine."
Oladapo said none of the Bibles or crosses in the church suffered serious damage, miraculously.
"The Bibles didn't burn," she said. "All the Bibles that were in the church didn't get burned."
That should tell you God is here. God is alive."
While everyone is okay, the church is considered a total loss. The damage was extensive, Oladapo said. Now, they are looking for a new place to worship temporarily.
It's unclear if the church was insured or if it could be rebuilt.
One firefighter was transported to a local hospital with a non-life-threatening injury and was subsequently discharged.