FRANKLINVILLE, N.C. -- Two men are accused of breaking into Franklinville United Methodist Church, stealing copper wire, cutting a gas line, and starting a fire.
In the process, one of the men lit himself on fire.
Randolph County Sheriff's deputies charged Kevin and Kyle Coleman with Breaking and Entering a Place of Worship, Felony Larceny, Possession of Stolen Goods and Burning of a Church or Religious Building.
WFMY News 2's Morgan Hightower spoke with church members and the Franklinville Fire chief about the crime.
"Something just told me yesterday to give him a call."
Richard Thomas was not planning to meet the plumber at church Monday morning, but the last-minute meeting might have saved the church he's attended for nearly 60-years.
"We knew we had a leak and
it was pretty bad. We had no idea what had happened to cause it. We knew
we needed to get that gas off or something bad would happen," explained Thomas, a church-trustee.
Franklinville Fire Chief Kyle Dixon and his crew arrived about 11:30 Monday morning. By then, natural gas had been filling the sanctuary for nearly eight hours.
"Once we got about halfway in here we started encountering smoke of course we've seen these lines right here cut," explained Dixon.
Authorities say Kyle and Kevin Coleman broke into the church before 4 a.m. to steal wire and accidentally cut a gas line. They say Kyle used his lighter to see and sparked a fire ball that lit his face and hand on fire.
Dixon says the brothers used a fire extinguisher but it did not stop the flames. Instead, the fire burned through wires and smoldered under the church.
"There was natural gas underneath the foundation, how it didn't explode is beyond me," said Dixon.
He added, "If the plumber hadn't showed up to do the work when he did, it would have happened sometime during the day. I'm pretty sure this building would have been leveled."
"We had a very good chance of losing this church," said Thomas. "We feel very strongly that the Lord was looking out for us."
During their investigation, law enforcement followed up on a report of a burn victim. Kyle Coleman said he was burning garbage and was injured when the gas can exploded, according to the sheriff's office. EMS took him to UNC Hospital for 2nd and 3rd-degree burns on his face and hands.
Deputies went to the Coleman's home in Asheboro. They said they found copper wiring and tubing inside that were taken from the church.
Church members do not know how much it will cost to repair the damage but know they will likely not be able to hold church there this weekend.
Dixon has offered the fire department as a place for the members to worship.