McDonough youth group flees Nashville church fire

About three dozen people from Bethany Baptist Church were staying in the recreation center of First Baptist Church in Nashville. A chaperon, Jeremy Newell, was asleep in the church gym when he was awakened by popping noises about 5 a.m.

“I got up and checked my phone to see what time it was, and was wondering, what is this noise?” Newell told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a phone interview. “It was getting louder. I smelled smoke.

“I went toward the kitchen where the sound was coming from, and there were flames coming from the kitchen,” he said. “So I started yelling to the guys in my group, ‘Get up! There’s a fire! Get out!’ Then I went upstairs to the other two rooms where the other men and girls were staying and I got them up, also.”

The group fled the building, many in their bare feet. They gathered outside, did a head count and realized everyone was accounted for safely.

Quillian “Q” Mercer, 34, Bethany Baptist youth pastor, said the group of 35 – seven adults and the rest teens in the sixth through 12th grades – had gone to Nashville over spring break to help sort donations and prepare meals at the Nashville Rescue Mission.

“The fire department showed up and got it under control pretty quickly," Mercer said. "But the fire was very intense. It burned the kitchen and the area around the kitchen pretty badly. ... When we went back to where our stuff was, everything was covered in soot from the smoke."

The fire started in a kitchen area, but the building sustained smoke damage throughout, The Associated Press reported. The recreation center is not attached to the sanctuary and church offices. First Baptist supplied members of the mission group with clothing from a donation closet.

Mercer credited Newell with awakening everyone and getting them outside safely.

“Jeremy Newell is the hero in all this,” he said. “I really believe he saved our lives.”

Newell, a 38-year-old Locust Grove resident who works as a GIS analyst for the Henry County Water Authority, said, “I don’t necessarily consider myself a hero. My main goal was just to get the kids out of the building. That’s what I was thinking at the time.”

The church group was on its way home to McDonough on Friday afternoon.

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