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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Parishioners from burned out Nashua church look to faith for comfort as they prepare to rebuild

NASHUA – David Ramos sat on a concrete step Monday at Heritage Baptist Church, the day after fire forced parishioners into the parking lot and seriously damaged the building.

Ramos sat with his 9-year-old daughters Bianca and Brianna. Next to them was a slightly sooty white bible. ...

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NASHUA – David Ramos sat on a concrete step Monday at Heritage Baptist Church, the day after fire forced parishioners into the parking lot and seriously damaged the building.

Ramos sat with his 9-year-old daughters Bianca and Brianna. Next to them was a slightly sooty white bible.

“Last night was a really, really big experience for us as a family,” Ramos said as he held his daughters and wiped away tears.

Sixty-eight people were in the church at the time when the alarms went off, according to the Rev. Larry Hileman, a pastor at the church.

Hileman said parishioners gathered Monday morning to pray for those who died in last week’s deadly fire in Lowell and the safety of the firefighters in Nashua who responded to their own disaster the night before.

He described the inside of the building where fire investigators and city officials were still investigating the cause of the fire and gathering information.

“It looks like a lot of water damage, ceiling tiles down. Windows are broken,” Hileman said.

Hileman was working the phone at a table under a white tent, talking with an insurance adjuster, and waiting for a cleanup crew to arrive. A handful of cars were in the building’s lot and several parishioners gathered, taking in the previous night’s blaze.

“One of the teenagers ran out into the foyer and grabbed Pastor Hileman’s wife,” said Ramos outside of an open doorway behind the steps. “I heard her say there was a fire and smoke was coming out of the nursery.”

Ramos and others rushed to evacuate all the children from the building first.

“Smoke started getting heavier, and I couldn’t see,” Ramos said. “I went to grab a fire extinguisher and I couldn’t find a fire extinguisher. I ran towards the door where the fire was. I touched the door knob. It was so hot I couldn’t grab it,” he said.

Two other people he was with told him not to open the door. One of them said, “You can’t open that, it’s bad,” Ramos said.

He tried to open the doorknob again but the heat prevented him.

“I asked them to please get all the kids out while I go in,” Ramos said. “They did not let me go in. As I worked my way out, I looked up. The flames were coming out the top of the roof.”

Ramos said he found his wife and kids waiting outside the church with the others.

“The fire and smoke was so bad,” he said.

He thought one of the children from the church was missing, and he started to fear the worst.

He eventually found out the boy was with his mother in a car. He said his daughters said to him at that point, “Dad, we all made it out. We got out.”

“My little Brianna told me, ‘Daddy, this is God’s work’. I didn’t know what to think about it at first,” he said.

His daughter Bianca said she lost her bible in the fire, and her father promised to look for it later.

“As we were talking, the firefighters walked out this door with the pastor’s bible,” Ramos said. “He said, ‘This is one of the things we were able to salvage.’

“We were so amazed the bible was not touched. The word of God was preserved by God himself.”

Other bibles were saved from the blaze, including Bianca’s.

“I thank God so much for the firefighters and police officers. I give God the honor and glory for these firefighters and police officers that risked their lives for our building,” Ramos said.

“I thank the Lord for being with us,” he said, as he exchanged “I love you” with his girls.

Others people walked around the outside of the church.

“We stick together in times like this,” said parishioner Robert Hicks. “We’re like a family, stronger than most families are.”

Hileman agreed.

“We’ve struggled but the people are wonderful people,” he said. “We met together in the parking lot and joined in prayer. We’ll just pray for wisdom. We built before; we’ll build again.”

He said the church started in 1993, meeting first in Greeley Park, then in private homes. The church rented space from several other area churches who had their own buildings. They eventually saved enough money for their own building.

“This building had been empty for about 7½, maybe eight years. We bought this in 2005,” Hileman said.

Next came a year-long renovation.

Hileman reflected on the fire.

“We’re not discouraged; we have to make some adjustments and rebuild,” he said.

“It looks like we’re back where we started, but we’ll be OK,” he said. “It does not look very pretty right now, but we’ll get it cleaned up. This is just a setback.”

Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590 or dhimsel@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Himsel on Twitter (@Telegraph_DonH).