Bethel community reacts to historic funeral home burning down

Published: Jan. 14, 2020 at 8:31 AM EST
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A 130-year-old building that caught fire in Bethel is being described as a total loss.

Members of the community gathered on the night of January 13 to watch firefighters battle a blaze at Walker Funeral Home.

According to Chief Joe Peel, around 11:00 p.m. firefighters were called to James Street, which is less than a mile from Bethel Fire Rescue. Crews got to the scene in minutes.

Peel says firefighters worked until 3:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, then returned around 6 a.m. to put out hotspots. No one, living or deceased, was inside of the building, and no injuries have been reported, Peel says investigators have not determined a cause of the fire.

Dennis Peay is the Pastor of United Methodist Church, right next to the funeral home. He watched firefighters try to save the building.

“When I came outside, the fire department was already on scene, smoke billowing out the second floor,” Peay said. He says, “All around, the community was coming out to see what was happening.”

Shirley Coker has worked in Bethel for over 60-years, and says the impact of the loss of the family business will be felt.

Coker said, “It’s a lot of memories here. A lot of memories.”

The funeral home was one of two in the entire city. Coker said the next nearest is in Tarboro.

“It’s gonna be hard to find somewhere else to go. I mean, when you’re used to this funeral home, it’s hard to find somewhere you actually like,” Coker said.

Pastor Peay says he and his congregation share that sentiment.

“They’re just shocked and surprised to see this happen. And yet another community business and landmark, in some ways, has gone away,” said Peay.

Despite the circumstances, the community is still hopeful.

Peay said, “So, we’ll hope that in the years to come, something might rise from these ashes.”

In a Facebook post, the funeral home said, “Thank you to all the fire and rescue personnel who came out last night to battle the blaze at Walker-Ayers Chapel, our Bethel location. We will continue to serve the communities we love through our Williamston and Windsor locations until our facility is rebuilt. Please keep our family in your prayers.”


An Eastern Carolina fire chief says a funeral home is a total loss after a late night fire.

Officials say a fire broke out at Walker Funeral Home in Bethel around 11 p.m. Monday. Crews say they battled the flames until about 3:30 a.m. and returned around 6 a.m. to put out remaining hot spots.

Bethel Fire Chief Joe Peel says nobody was inside the funeral home, living or deceased, and no injuries were reported.

Crews are still working to determine how the fire started. Right now the fire cause is inconclusive, according to the chief.

The funeral home says the original house dates back to the 1890s.

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