PIERRE, SD—A devastating fire destroyed a local hotel in Pierre, SD on Tuesday, November 11, 2014. The Capitol Inn was home to 31 families. The fire caused 40-50 people to suddenly become homeless. The First United Methodist Church in Pierre quickly became the headquarters for donations and outreach to victims.
Photo: Firefighters work to contain the flames at the Capitol Inn in Pierre, SD where 31 families loss their homes. Photo by Nick Lowery, Capitol Journal.
Fire was fast moving on a cold night
Smoke poured out of the Capitol Inn after a fire started in the motel around 4 pm. According to the Capitol Journal, Pierre firefighters sprayed water into the ceiling before the fire engulfed the building. The fire chief told the newspaper that some residents had to be pulled from the motel.
Four inches of snow had fallen earlier in the week and the temperatures dipped to 4 degrees with a wind chill factor of -10. One firefighter was hurt while fighting the fire and taken to the hospital.
The cause of the fire is unclear, but investigators know the blaze started in one room on the west side of the building and spread aggressively through the motel's attic, which is shared between its three sections, Pierre Fire Chief Ian Paul said.
First UMC responds immediately
Rev. Peggy Stempson, associate pastor at Pierre First UMC, heard the report that there was fire around 4:30 pm. “I saw the flames as I was driving by the capitol. I knew there would be people who needed help. I immediately called another clergy person in town and people at First UMC. Things just started happening.”
Photo: Volunteers help to set up a shelter and donation center for victims of the Capitol Inn fire at Pierre First UMC. Photo courtesy of Pierre First UMC.
The Red Cross put out a call for displaced people to come to the church. Anchored, a community-wide young adult bible study group was meeting as they usually do every Tuesday at First UMC. By the time Stempson arrived back at the church, the members of Anchor group had begun preparing an area for victims and donations.
First UMC was set up to be an overnight shelter for victims by 7 pm in the Trinity Community Center. Donations of blankets, shoes, pillows, clothes and hygiene items started pouring into the church.
Volunteers continued to show up and work quickly to set up tables, sort the donations and get cots up for victims to spend the night. By 9:30 pm things were in place for victims to receive items that they needed and a warm bed.
Help and support continues
Fourteen people stayed at Pierre First UMC the first night and eleven people stayed the second night. Donations were sorted and distributed continuously. Over 100 volunteers helped in the effort.
Photo: Donations and continued support at Pierre First UMC for those who lost everything in a fire at the Capitol Inn. Photo courtesy of Pierre First UMC.
The Red Cross setup headquarters at the church and continued to provide support and volunteers to assist victims throughout the week. Victims were referred to community agencies based on need.
Rev. Dan Bader, senior pastor at Pierre First UMC, hosted a brief service of prayer and hope. The service focused on reaching out to the first responders—firefighters, law enforcement and others who battled the blaze. Twenty-six people attended the 30 minutes of worship. People who came were not a part of the congregation.
Pierre First is always ready to respond
How did Pierre First UMC spring into action so quickly? It started back in 2011 when Rev. Howard Grinager, then senior pastor, opened the church for victims of the Missouri River flood. The church become known throughout the community for hospitality and emergency shelter.
Naturally, the community called upon the church again during the fire and members responded without hesitation. Volunteers stepped up. Christian Education was cancelled for one week. The church is always ready to respond.
“The church has been outstanding in flexibility and caring. We are body of Christ – we are just being the church. One minute at a time,” said Bader.