Smoke damage temporarily closes Omaha church

It could have been much worse.
A smoldering fire at Holy Ghost Church in Omaha caused severe smoke damage, but parishioners and staff are grateful there were no injuries or structural damage, said Father William Sanderson, pastor.
Sometime between the end of morning Mass June 21 and the following morning, the fire began in a basement stairwell in a trash can containing painting materials.
“Despite extensive smoke damage, all the doors to the stairwell were closed, depriving the fire of oxygen, so it burned itself out,” Father Sanderson said.
“We also were fortunate that the fire department didn’t have to be called, so there was no water damage.”
And it happened just one month after the parish celebrated its 100th anniversary Mass.
But the acrid, chemical-laden smoke, carried through the ventilation system, stained the altar, pews, statues, walls, wainscoting, carpeting, ceiling tiles, stained glass windows – and to a lesser extent, the basement church hall.
“Even the tiniest spider web was black,” Father Sanderson said.
Now the months-long task of cleaning, painting and refurbishing the entire church and hall, and cleaning or replacing ductwork and air handling equipment, is well underway.
Everything was removed from the church, including statues and pews. The pipe organ may need to be replaced, and some of the decorative wall stenciling may need to be redone.
At the earliest, the work will be completed by October or early November. After a deductible, insurance will cover the cost of repairs.
In the meantime, parishioners are attending Mass at St. Stanislaus Church, less than two miles away, where Father Sanderson also is pastor, or at other churches.
It was fortunate the fire occurred when it did, Father Sanderson said, because few special events are scheduled during the summer, and the parish had held its June Jamboree fundraiser.
“But we’ve asked that the church hall be put on a fast track so we can hold our annual chicken dinner Aug. 19, and Husker film nights during football season,” he said. “And if there’s a funeral, we’d like to be able to use the hall for a luncheon so there’s some connection to the parish.”
“I hope we’ll be back in the church sooner than later,” Father Sanderson said.
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