The common center and chapel buildings at the hermitage of the musician John Michael Talbot burned to the ground on Tuesday.
The fire began at about 12 a.m. at the Little Portion Hermitage, located in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. It started in the Charity Chapel, the main worship space for the Catholic religious community. The blaze spread through a covered walkway to the Common Center, which houses the dining and meeting rooms, the offices, and the library.
Both structures were reportedly total losses and some community members suffered smoke inhalation trying to rescue items from the fire.
In a letter posted on his web site, John Michael Talbot described the fire, saying he saw the “orange-red glow” of the flames from his hermitage’s back windows.
“Upon arriving we found there were no hoses capable of stopping the raging flames. I ran up the hill and woke up the community, and we started the almost futile task of spraying down the part of the Common Center that had not yet burned and retrieving anything from inside we could still find,” he said.
Talbot, a secular Franciscan who founded the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, said he had never seen a fire so large.
“The flames reached high into the sky,” he said. “The smoke was very dense, as was the heat. Despite this, our people ventured into the smoky building to retrieve whatever they could reach. Some of us suffered from smoke inhalation. I spent a lot of time trying to get people out of the building before it exploded into flames. We finally surrendered to the inevitability that our Chapel and Common building were going to burn to the ground before the fire company could get to us.”
According to Talbot, the volunteer fire company arrived 30 to 40 minutes after the fire began. He said the community was “most grateful” to the firefighters for saving the other buildings.
Talbot said the community archives, all the library books, and the community’s various awards were lost in the fire. He said the stockroom and inventory for Troubadour, the hermitage’s music distribution ministry, were also lost. Some outdated information survived in computer backups.
“It is our hope that most of this is covered by our insurance,” Talbot said. He stated that offers of help were also appreciated, saying, “We are humbled and grateful beyond mere words for the outpouring of offers to help with food, housing and other things.”
He reported that members of the community received various words and locutions. One saw the image of Gideon, who was repeatedly told by God that he needed fewer, but better-prepared men for battle.
Talbot said that God is “stripping us back to what is really essential to our way of life.”
The community will use its Portiuncula Chapel for prayer and vacant hermitages for meals, community meetings, and a temporary office. A recovery fund has been set up at http://www.troubadourforthelord.com