Pastor counting blessings after garage fire destroys house

By Jessica Brodie

JONESVILLE—The Rev. Don Alexander is thankful to be alive.

The pastor of Bogansville United Methodist Church was in his garage Jan. 6, restoring his 1974 MGB, when his world changed in a heartbeat.

“I had a heater going to keep me warm, and in the process of replacing the carburetor, a little gas slipped out, and it went boom,” Alexander told the Advocate.

The explosion blew up and out toward the garage door, igniting the structure and adjoining house in minutes. Alexander said only the Lord kept him from being killed.

“The miracle is I heard it go up, the explosion, I saw it, but I never felt any heat and I didn't get burned in any way, and I was just the distance of the car away—I didn’t even get singed,” Alexander said. “It was as if God was standing between me and the fire. I could see everything, I could see the gas run toward the heater, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.”

But instead of coming at him, the explosion went the other way.

“If it had come toward me I would be gone,” Alexander said.

His house wasn’t so fortunate. After the explosion, Alexander ran toward his home, where his older mother and two dogs Harley, a crippled dachshund, and Bocephus, a golden retriever, were inside. His mother made it outside in her walker, and he was able to call 911, get the dogs out, plus retrieve his laptop and his mother’s wheelchair before the house was fully engulfed. His wife was still at work.

“There were three or four fire departments responding, but they couldn’t do anything,” Alexander said. “They just sprayed water and contained it just to the parsonage.”

The fire also destroyed his Chevy Suburban.

Alexander said that while he, his wife and mother are saddened to have lost precious memories in the fire, like photographs, yearbooks and gifts from churches he has served in the past, they’re grateful to have escaped unharmed. Still, he urges pastors to be sure to get renter’s insurance, which they did not have. Even though the church’s insurance covered the structure and furnishings, it did not cover any of the Alexanders’ personal belongings, so they lost all of it.

“I knew (I needed renter’s insurance), but I’ve been in ministry 19 years now, and you keep putting it off and putting it off, and you don't expect anything like this to happen,” he said—but it did, and now he hopes his experience will encourage other pastors to properly insure themselves.

Still, he is trying to keep a good sense of humor about the experience, even though he knows he’s still reeling from the trauma.

“I laughed and told my congregation I have a whole new series on fire and brimstone,” he said. “Having been close to the flames, I can say you don’t want to go there.”

The Alexanders have been staying at a nearby Baptist parsonage since the fire, and they plan to remain there while the parsonage is rebuilt. He said their Baptist neighbors, as well as United Methodists, have been extremely generous, donating money and personal items to help them regain some level of normalcy as they put their lives back together.

“You’d think some of that (denominational) rivalry would enter in, but in this community, not at all,” Alexander said. “God is good.”

Spartanburg District Superintendent Paul Harmon said the congregation and the rural community where the church is located have been very helpful in response, including the offer to live in the unused parsonage at nearby Mount Lebanon Baptist Church until a new parsonage can be built at Bogansville. He said the Alexanders are beginning to get back into some routine.

“I was at Bogansville UMC the Sunday after the fire,” Harmon said. “The church was packed, and the congregation's response to the tragedy was quick and substantial. The parsonage itself was well insured, and the trustees are dealing now with clearing the property and searching for plans for a new house.”

Harmon said the site clearing will cost a good bit more than the insurance covers, and he suggests people and churches review their insurance policies with regard to how much coverage is available for site preparation following a loss.

Bogansville UMC has also been doing chicken stew fundraisers and other love offerings to help the family. To learn more about how to help, call 864-884-0470.

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