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Cause of Villas Wesleyan Church in Fort Myers fire ruled 'undetermined'

Posted at 6:02 PM, Feb 14, 2024

UPDATE (Thursday, February 15, 2024 at 12:05 PM)

The state fire marshal team and South Trail Fire & Rescue fire marshal have ruled the cause of the fire to be “undetermined”. The area of origin is the sanctuary west wing attic area.

Original story

A fire has destroyed the main building of the Villas Wesleyan Church. The blaze, which took hours for firefighters from South Trail Fire to control, has resulted in the collapse of a significant portion of the church's roof.

Lead Pastor, Wesley Wickard, said he was in his office working on a project when he heard a loud buzzing sound. "I was like 'Oh, this is a fire alarm'. So, I ran outside and that's when I called 9-1-1," Wickard said.

Wickard said he’s served at the church for six years now, so it’s completely surreal to see it in ruins. “Just a couple days ago I'm preaching from the pulpit that's now broken and the ceilings caved in," Wickard added.

The loss of the church building has reverberated through the community, with many expressing their sadness and sharing personal memories of the church on social media. "This is a very special place to a lot of people. We've gotten a lot of feedback from people on Facebook saying things like 'That's the place I got saved' or 'That's the place I found Christ,'" Wickard noted.

Despite the setback, Wickard says his congregation will continue to move forward with services, albeit in a slightly different setting. Wickard humorously remarked, "We'll be meeting in a gym, and hopefully the kids won't try to play basketball while we're trying to worship.”

Members of the church, including Jerry Jackson and Fernando and Zaret Martinez, have expressed their faith and optimism in the face of adversity. Jackson believes that, with God's will, the community will overcome this challenge, while the Martinezes emphasized that the work of God continues regardless of the circumstances.

Investigators say they should know how the fire started soon. Wickard says once that’s sorted, they can talk to their insurers about rebuilding.

Wickard and his congregation are hopeful, saying they’re holding onto their faith that joy and recovery will come with time. "We know joy comes in the morning. It's gonna' be there. That's one thing we can rest assured on - the sun's gonna' rise again," Wickard affirmed.