The Time the Whole Town Almost Burned Down

The town of St. Augustine is a close knit community, with so very few residents each person tends to know everyone else – sometimes a little more than they should. With this in mind, when a local crisis strikes the town, each able- bodied person bands together to help those who may need it. This is clearly shown in the incident of the Catholic Church fire.

history summer 1
Catholic Church, photo credit: Sister Rein Driscoll

It was 2 am on September 1st, 1976.  Smoke could be seen all the way out to the islands. A fire had started in the Catholic Church that quickly became uncontrollable. Earlier that day, a gathering had occurred in the recreational space of the Church; however, by the time that the fire had erupted at 2am, everyone had been home asleep. This caused the fire to go unnoticed from the villagers until the flames had completely consumed the area around the church and neighbouring residents. Men and women reacted as quickly as they could, with buckets of water being rushed to the burning church, and hoses attached from taps to try and tame the flames.

history summer 2
Catholic Church, photo credit: Sister Rein Driscoll

Nevertheless, their attempts had failed with the realisation there were two five hundred gallon barrels of fuel in close proximity to the Church. The people had feared if the winds had changed direction, that the flames would reach the barrels and cause a massive explosion.   The location of the old Catholic Church was – and still is since being rebuilt – located in the center of the town. Many houses surrounded it, which caused worry that the fires embers would reach the nearby houses and spread throughout the whole village. Given this information and the flames of the fire increasing in size, the town decided to prepare for an emergency evacuation.

All the men in the village had gotten their boats and rushed them down to the water front, where their families had retreated for safety during the panic. Once down by the water front, the people had waited in angst as the fire had begun to slowly burn itself out.

history summer 3
Catholic Church, photo credit: Sister Rein Driscoll

After the fire had completely diminished, the only thing that remained was the church bell, and the Virgin Mary statue. It is believed by some that the statue had helped stop the fire from spreading, because even though the statue was merely meters away from the flames, there had been no damage to the statue, not even a single burn mark. The statue had been placed in front of the church in 1950 by a Priest, and as it was said that the priest had stated “The statue will now be the protectress of St. Augustine”.

Later it was determined that the fire had started in the towers connected to the church. It is alleged that a smoker had been in one of the towers and had dropped their cigarette butt starting the fire. However, this interpretation is mere speculation and a definitive source of the cause of the fire was never found.

Summer Driscoll, secondary 5, École St. Augustine School, Mrs. Crystal’s ELA class

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