A fire that scorched a Franklin County church Friday morning appears to be suspicious, the sheriff’s office said.
A neighbor saw smoke and flames coming from the New Hope United Methodist Church, between Callaway and Rocky Mount, at about 6 a.m., Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Phillip Young said.
Firefighters were able to quickly put out the fire, and the building in the 3900 block of Old Forge Road remains structurally sound, he said.
“It is early in the investigation, but we can say that the cause of the fire is suspicious,” Young wrote in a news release.
The sheriff’s office and county’s fire marshal are investigating the fire.
Photos from the church’s Facebook page show burned pews in the front yard of the church, surrounded by caution tape.
“We’re just dumbfounded,” said Carolyn Saul, 55, a longtime church member. “It’s a neighborhood fixture, and people are very upset.”
Saul said the congregation of a couple of dozen people plans to hold Sunday’s service outside on the church grounds.
She heard about the fire because her grandson is on the volunteer fire department and received the call. The family has been attending the church for five generations. Saul credited the first responders for their swift action.
”We’re going to fix things back up,” she said. “The church is the people.”
Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call the sheriff’s office at 483-3000.