Firefighters Battle Extreme Heat, Toxic Gasses

RALEIGH COUNTY, W.Va. (WOAY) – Flames that engulfed Freedom Ministries over the weekend drew in multiple local fire departments, but temperatures were so extreme that many had to retreat.

“An average house fire at the ceiling is probably about 1200° and back down to the floor about 300°,” said Lieutenant Chris Graham from Beckley Fire Department. “The church is a really big open space…With all that air and fuel for the fire it’ll get really hot really quick.”

Heat isn’t the only danger that poses itself to firefighters. Burning materials like plastics can release toxins that could cause cancer.

Fire departments that responded to Sunday’s fire were unavailable before our deadline, but Beckley Fire Department was able to share details on how their teams stay safe.

“[Our face mask] is what connects us to the air bottle,” said Graham. “Without this, we’d be breathing in smoke and toxic gases.”

The suit and gear weigh approximately 80 pounds. To prepare to work under the weight, firefighters do most of their training in full gear.

Sunday’s fire devastate the Freedom Ministries community. It took thousands of gallons of water to put out the flames. Despite the ferocious heat, not a single firefighter was injured and not one Bible or cross was found burned.

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Kassie Simmons joined the team in January 2019 as a weekend journalist. She graduated from Virginia Tech in just two and a half years with a BA in multimedia journalism. During her short time at Virginia Tech, she served as the editor for the university’s chapter of The Tab. Kassie was named the top reporter for The Tab at Virginia Tech on multiple occasions and made the list for the top 30 reporters for The Tab in the U.S. She also studied theater performance and minored in creative writing. Before coming to WOAY, Kassie interned at WSLS in Roanoke and the Tidewater Review in her hometown of West Point, Va. She has loved following breaking news since her childhood and has a passion for delivering the stories people care most about. Kassie is excited to be working in Southern West Virginia and looks forward to all the adventures ahead of her. You can follow her on Twitter at @KassieLSimmons and like her page on Facebook. If you have a story you think she should check out, send her an email at