The Monkton United Methodist Church was damaged when lightning struck the steeple early Thursday morning, according to Baltimore County officials. Police responded to a caller at 1:37 a.m. who said that lightning had struck the steeple and started a fire at the 16500 block of Garfield Avenue in Monkton.
Firefighters had the fire under control by 4:10 a.m., and no one was injured, according to police.
Brian MacMillan, 41, was the first to discover the fire. He said he went outside and heard a crackling noise from the nearby church.
"Up through the trees I saw the right front of the church and it was glowing," MacMillan said. He sent a text message to the Rev. Jack Bussard, the pastor, and by the time Bussard arrived the steeple of the 144-year-old church was completely destroyed.
"It looked like a bomb went off," said Bussard, who has been pastor at the church for three years.
Church members and workers hired to help clean up were at the church throughout the day. A crew from a local landscaping firm came in to lift the church's historic bell from the fallen tower.
The bell dates to the 1870 founding of the church as Monkton Methodist Episcopal Church, and markings indicate "Josh Regester, Baltimore" – a likely reference to the noted industrialist and founder of Joshua Regester & Sons, a bell foundry that crafted the "Big Sam" bell that once rang at City Hall in Baltimore. Regester died in 1906.
At the end of Thursday, Bussard was looking for another place to hold this week's worship service. "It is what it is. We're glad no one got hurt," he said.
County fire and police personnel had also responded just after 1 a.m. to a home in Middle River regarding another report of a lightning strike and a dwelling fire. A homeowner in the unit block of Bogby Court told police he woke up after lightning struck the home. When firefighters arrived at the scene, they observed fire coming from the roof of the home.
Kaytee Orzech, 29, who lives in the house with her father, mother and daughter, said the lightning strike was "the scariest thing ever to wake up to."
Her sister-in-law Amanda Orzech, 28, an Abingdon resident who was staying there with her husband and two sons, said the lightning struck just before 1 a.m.
"There was a huge boom, it sounded like a bomb went off," Orzech said. "As soon as we heard it we scooped up the kids and ran out."
The roof of the home collapsed during the blaze, and there was some damage to adjacent homes. The fire was under control at 2:34 a.m.
Family members said the Red Cross is putting them up for two days, then neighbors have offering their house for two weeks. "We were able to salvage some photos," Kaytee Orzech said.
Kelly Karatzakislis, 26, said her parents live next door but were not home at the time of the incident. She came to the neighborhood to see what had happened, and said the side of their house is now warped from the heat of the fire.