A fire late Tuesday afternoon destroyed the Clifton Freewill Baptist Church, located 1.5 miles north of Thayer on Highway 19 in Oregon County, said Thayer Fire Chief Mark Arnold.

Arnold said firefighters were dispatched at 4:40 p.m. Tuesday to the church, and when they arrived the building was engulfed in fire, with flames shooting 50 to 60 feet high. The roof already had partially collapsed.

Arnold said the cause of the blaze is unknown but is not considered suspicious at this point, noting that the fire marshall was called to the scene because all church fires, by law, have to be investigated.

Arnold said his department was assisted by firefighters from Mammoth Spring, Ark., Alton, Koshkonong and Rover. The fire chief said he was on the scene until 8:40 p.m.

The pastor of the church, Darrell Mitchell, said a church member drove by the church at 3:45 p.m. Tuesday and nothing was reported to be wrong until a passerby saw the fire around 4:40 p.m. and called the Thayer Fire Department.

Mitchell said the church is insured and the building will be rebuilt. In the meantime, the pastor said he is looking for a place to hold services on Sunday for the 30 to 40 people that attend each week.

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