Middle Georgia Cold Cases: Dublin Church Fire

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DUBLIN, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – Dublin’s fire chief still remembers the day a historic church the heart of town went up in flames five years ago.

Someone intentionally set fire to Central Baptist Church on Smith Street and investigators haven’t been able to find the person responsible. Chief Pat Ballard says it’s one of the toughest fires he’s fought in his career.

"The church was fully involved. It was running from one end to the other and we had set up lines to hit as much as we could and to do whatever we could, but we knew we were in for a long day," Ballard said.

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Who intentionally started the fire at Central Baptist Church? 41NBC’s Skyler Henry goes back through the ruins of the old building looking for answers.

It’s a Middle Georgia Cold Case: Dublin Church Fire — Thursday at 6 on 41NBC.

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DUBLIN, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – In August 2010, a place of worship for so many in Dublin burned to the ground.

Investigators say someone started the fire at Central Baptist Church. 

On grounds that were once considered sacred, charred remains, as if frozen in time, are scattered on Smith Street. 

"We were lucky it was Friday afternoon. There wasn’t anybody at the church," Dublin Fire Chief Pat Ballard. 

Parts of the frame of what used to be Central Baptist Church are still standing. A fire swept through the halls of the building, leveling the 50-year-old sanctuary.

It’s still on Chief Ballard’s mind. 

"I stopped for a minute to listen and the first truck on scene was Captain Mims and he reported heavy smoke and flames. So I knew right then it was going to be a long day and a lot of people," Ballard said. 

"I don’t know what the problem would have problem. I couldn’t see our church as a target," Rev. Ellis Carswell, the then pastor of Central Baptist Church, said in an interview in 2010. 

A target for arson. 

"So basically this was a ‘surround and drowned’ situation. It was too dangerous. It was too far involved and too collapsable to even think about putting a firefighter inside the building," Ballard said. 

Local, state, and federal investigators looked for clues in between the rubble. 

"It’s shocking to everyone that someone would actually do something like this," Rev. Michael Harmon said in an interview in 2010. 

After weeks of searching, the state fire marshal determined someone intentionally started the fire at the church.

"It’s a bad situation when somebody burns a church down," said Ballard. 

It wasn’t the first time someone tried to burn down the church. police reports show weeks before, someone threw a brick through one of the church’s windows, lighting curtains on fire — there was only a little damage.

"This church had been here a long time. It had a very solid congregation and any time you lose something like this, it effects the community, it effects the neighborhood because this has been something that has been part of this neighborhood for a long time," Ballard said. 

Chief Ballard was a captain at the time. He says while the church may no longer be around, there’s still a saving grace. 

"I also look at it as a success story because nobody loss their life. None of the firefighters were injured in any shape of form and everybody walked away," he said. 

41NBC tried reaching out to Reverend Carswell on an update to the fire, we have not heard back. Central Baptist Church was never rebuilt. 

If you have any idea who set fire to Central Baptist Church, call the Dublin Police Department at 478-277-5023 or the state fire marshal.